Fires at The Drew Las Vegas Bring Arson Charges on 26-Year-Old, $10M in Damages Reported

Posted on: May 7, 2018, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: May 7, 2018, 10:16h.

Two fires at The Drew Las Vegas in March were incendiary acts allegedly ignited by 26-year-old Andrew Sanders, federal authorities claim in an arraignment filed this week.

The Drew fire Las Vegas crime
The Drew has been a money pit for more than a decade. In March, a man allegedly used the unfinished property as a fire pit, which caused an estimated $10 million in damages. (Image: Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

US Attorney Dayle Elieson for the District of Nevada says Sanders trespassed at the unfinished Strip property on March 1.

Caught on Camera

Surveillance video shows Sanders near the location where the man-made fires were set. Investigators say the main fire was ignited near the ballroom on the 11th floor of The Drew.

When attempting to flee the scene, Sanders reportedly engaged in a physical altercation with a firefighter, which delayed first responders from getting water to the blazes as quickly as they otherwise would have.

Sanders was later arrested by officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. According to the arraignment, he admitted during an interview with investigators of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Clark County Fire Department to trespassing and being on the 11th floor of the parking garage structure.

He has now been charged with one count of arson, which carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Drew’s Struggles

It’s unclear why Andrew Sanders decided to set fire to The Drew. Elieson says based on a preliminary estimate, the fire caused approximately $10 million in damages.

The Drew was known as the Fontainebleau before billionaire Carl Icahn sold it last September for $600 million to New York-based developer Steve Witkoff and Miami investment group New Valley. The Drew is named for Witkoff’s then 22-year-old son Andrew, who died in 2011 from a drug overdose while in a rehab facility. 

The Drew in its various forms has been a fiscal nightmare since construction began on the then-Fontainebleau as a 3,815-room casino resort on the Strip’s northern end in early 2007. The 2008 recession led the development into bankruptcy, and Icahn acquired the unfinished towering blue structure in 2009 for a bargain $156 million.

Icahn apparently had no plans to finish the resort, and the building stood as a constant reminder of the economic downturn that hit Las Vegas hard for the next eight years.

The Drew is now slated to open in late 2020, according to Witkoff. John Knott, vice president of CBRE Group — the largest commercial real estate investment firm in the world — estimates Witkoff will need to spend $900 million to $1.6 billion to finish The Drew and get it ready for that opening.

Fires Down, Homicides Up

Arson has become less common across Las Vegas. According to statistics from Metro Police, there were 99 incidences of arson in 2016, down from almost 400 a decade earlier in 2006.

While arson statistics have gone down, other crimes are headed in the opposite direction. Last year was the deadliest year on record in Las Vegas, with 264 reported homicides, including the 58 lives lost in the October 1 shooting from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo credits the rise in homicides to an increase in the city’s population. The population within the county has grown from 877,233 in 2007, to 1,005,212 in 2017, a 14.6 percent surge.