Chicago Bar Owner Charged with Arson

Investigators say alleged hate crime was actually insurance fraud

The owner of Chicago's Bonsai Bar & Lounge has been charged with burning down his previous restaurant.

When the Velvet Rope, the only gay bar and restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, burned down last year, it was initially feared to be a hate crime. Owner Frank Elliott told the local news that he was shocked by the fire and horrified by the anti-gay slurs found spray painted inside the building, but police are now saying Elliott himself burned down the building for the insurance money.

"This is my life on the line. Everything I've done my entire life is now behind plywood," Elliott said at the time. "Why did they choose me? What did I do?"

After the fire, Elliott collected $150,000 of insurance money and opened Bonsai Bar & Lounge, a more upscale bar and restaurant in Chicago's Boystown neighborhood.

But according to the Chicago Phoenix, investigators determined that "Elliott was involved in planning, committing and the eventual intended insurance benefits of this incident.”

According to ABC News, prosecutors said yesterday that Elliott and a friend had purchased several bottles of Everclear from a local liquor store before spray painting gay slurs around the building, dousing the place in the alcohol, and lighting the bar on fire.


Elliott has been charged with two counts of arson and one count of insurance fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 14 years for the two counts of arson and 15 years for the insurance fraud.