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Woman charged in arson of own home posts bail

POSTED: March 4, 2009 11:55 p.m.
JIM DEAN/Times regional staff

Pamela Graf, right, sits with her attorney Richard Young as they listen to Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bagley explain bond conditions.

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CUMMING — A woman charged with torching her own home in January and making it look like a hate crime has been released on bond.

Pamela Morrow Graf, 47, posted $57,871 bail Monday night at the Forsyth County Detention Center, a jail spokeswoman said. Her next court appearance is set for April 1.

Graf was arrested Feb. 3 and charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of Schedule 3 and Schedule 4 narcotics. The arrest was the result of searches of her hotel room and vehicle.

A few days later, she was charged with first-degree arson in connection with the Jan. 18 blaze at her home on Lanier Drive in northeastern Forsyth. Someone also spray-painted graffiti that included a racial slur and the phrase "your black boy will die" on a fence along Graf’s property.

Authorities say Graf and her boyfriend, 46-year-old Steve Edward Strobel of Barrow County, burned the house down in an insurance scam.

On Monday, Graf and her attorney, Richard Young, appeared before Forsyth County Superior Court Judge
Jeffrey S. Bagley for a bond hearing on the drug charges. Her bond for the arson charge had previously been set at $30,371.

Bagley set Graf’s bond Monday for the drug charges and included the requirement that she wear an ankle monitor.

During the hearing, Young told the court Graf has "substantial ties" to Georgia, including her parents and three children, all of whom live in Forsyth.

He said Graf had made arrangements with her ex-husband before the fire for joint custody of her children, and now he is trying to cancel those arrangements.

He said she also signed a lease to rent a house after the fire, which she is bound to for a year.

"She contends vigorously that she’s totally innocent of these charges," Young said.

Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney James Dunn said Graf had an eight ball, or about 3.5 grams, of cocaine with her when she was arrested.

He said she also has been indicted in Twiggs County on possession of cocaine charges from 2007. He said that case in middle Georgia is pending.

Dunn said he had no problem setting Graf’s bond at $25,000, but asked that she be required to wear an ankle monitor.

"Her home was up for sale and according to the fire chief she had plans to leave the state," Dunn said.

He said authorities also have found items Graf claimed were lost in the fire and think she burned her house down to commit insurance fraud.

Strobel was charged Feb. 3 with obstruction of justice and providing a false statement in connection with the fire. He was subsequently charged with arson in the first degree.

He was released Feb. 22 from the Forsyth County Detention Center after posting $27,610 bail.

Graf told authorities she and Strobel left Jan. 16 for the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. She said they camped in a van and returned Jan. 19 after hearing about the fire.

Forsyth County Fire Marshal Steve Anderson said investigators continue to gather evidence in the case. Last week, they searched a storage unit Strobel rented in Barrow County.

"That provided us some evidence of the fire, so we were happy about that," Anderson said. "There is still the possibility of other charges coming up."

He said they have not been able to verify that the couple went to the nation’s capital. Investigators have filed a court order for Graf’s phone records, but have not yet received them.

Graf claimed she was targeted because of her support for President Barack Obama.

She said she removed a campaign sign from her yard earlier in January after receiving a threatening letter in her mailbox. She said she did not report the letter because she did not take it seriously.

She said the message was written on notebook paper and included a racial slur and the phrase "watch your back."

Along with Forsyth County fire investigators, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and State Farm insurance investigators have participated in the probe.



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