When fire broke out at Wold’s RV in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, investigators got help from an unusual source. The Wold’s RV arsonist himself phoned in tips that led to his own arrest. Now Daniel Martin Kaufman of Wadena, Minnesota, is on a payment hook that could last a very long time. A judge has ordered Kaufman to pay $100 a month as restitution on a nearly $1.2 million set of damages.
Anonymous phone call
The fire call came on December 29, 2020, at 9:45 at night. Flames were blasting out of the windows on the east side of a steel building at Wold’s RV. It didn’t take long for investigators to figure out somebody had lit fire to the place. Investigators found fresh foot tracks in the snow—and tire tracks near a neighboring business. The question, who did they belong to? Just who was the Wold’s RV arsonist? They asked for the public’s help, and soon got an anonymous telephone call.
The secret tipster suggested the RV arsonist may have been upset with the business. They also suggested that somehow a fish house could be involved. For those unfamiliar with fish houses, they’re portable cabins on wheels that can be pulled out on icy lakes. Hatches through the floor allow fisherfolks to cut through the ice, drop a line, and fish without freezing their tushes.
Armed with the ice house tip, police asked staff at Wold’s about ice houses. A quick look around the lot showed an ice house valued at $30,000 was missing from the lot. The brand name, remember this, was “Big Bite.” Hoping to take a big bite out of crime, police waited for more information.
Had to be a frame up!
It didn’t take long. Another tip call came in. This time the caller identified himself as Daniel Kaufman. His purpose in calling was to help—and to keep himself in the clear. Between calls, police had stacked up a few clues. One was a piece of surveillance camera footage from that business where fresh foot prints and tire tracks were found the night of the fire. In the video, a white Dodge pickup had been parked for about 20 minutes the night of the fire.
Turns out, a white Dodge pickup truck was put up for sale the day after the arson. The post was on Facebook—and made by one Daniel Kaufman. Asked about this, Kaufman quickly asked if the video showed the face of the truck’s driver. After all, he, Kaufman, just happened to be in Detroit Lakes that day, doing some fishing with a mysterious guy named “Bill.” Yeah, you know, Bill borrowed the truck for about 20 minutes that night. Had to be a frame-up!
High-tech crime busting
No modern-day police investigation would be complete without some high-tech work, would it? Police got their hands on Kaufman’s cell phone. Among the searches that Kaufman had evidently done using his phone were these: “How to make a fake car title.” “How to report an anonymous tip.” “Locating hidden GPS trackers.” “How to get a title for a camper.” And one of our favorites, “MN Big Bite for Sale.” All those searches had a bite of their own.
In case you decide to take up a life of crime, here are a few other helpful tips. Don’t use your cell phone to carry out text messages like some of Kaufman’s. In one message, he offered to sell a Big Bite Fish House for $15,000. Nooo, he didn’t have a title for it, but he’d work on getting one. Capping this off, images on Kaufman’s phone showed the inside and outside of the filched fish house.
As for the fish house itself? Police later found it, parked behind a hotel in Park Rapids, about 40 miles east of where it went missing. Police also found a couple of keys in the center console of Kauffman’s pickup truck. Interestingly, they fit a lock that had been put on the missing fish house. It wasn’t exactly Cinderella’s slipper, but close enough.
Oh, yeah. As to Kaufman’s question about did his face show up on that surveillance cam video? Yep, it sure did. Not at the nearby business but, rather, at a Walmart store “down the road” from Detroit Lakes. The convicted Wold’s RV arsonist is clearly seen getting out of, and back into, the truck. Not real convincing in itself, but add this to it. Hitched on the back of Kaufman’s pickup truck—a Big Bite Fish House.
Not much jail time—but a lot of payments
Had Kaufman not pled guilty, we suspect a jury would have been back in court in a hurry. But plead guilty he did, and late last month, a Becker County District Court judge rolled out Kaufman’s sentence. The charges were second degree felony arson and felony theft. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison, but was stayed for 10 years. Instead, he’ll see 180 days jail time.
In addition to the six months of cell time, he’ll also need to pay a fine of $1,000 and court fees totaling $1,150. But the numbers aren’t over. He’ll also need to pay back the insurance companies involved. $910,617 to West Bend Mutual, and $85,000 to American Family. Wold’s RV is also out money, and Kaufman owes the outfit $173,054.
So how will Daniel Kaufman pay? He’s currently living on a disability check of less than $1,200 a month. That will soon be reduced by $500 when his dependent son comes of age. “Despite this, the court does believe the defendant would be able to pay some amount of the judgment ordered,” District Judge Jay Carlson wrote in his sentencing order. Kaufman will need to pay $100 per month toward restitution until his probation ends. He’s not off the hook then—anything not paid by then will roll over into a civil judgment in favor of the RV outfit and insurance companies.
Forgive us. Daniel Martin Kaufman—another “Einstein of Crime.”