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Woman pleads guilty to arson-for-hire scheme along Kansas City's 39th Street restaurant row

Dan Margolies
Now fenced off and unoccupied, the section of the building at 39th and Bell streets with a gray facade once housed a movie theater.

Mia Lee Jamison, 70, faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to soliciting someone to destroy the building by arson and lying to ATF. Her plan was to torch the building that housed Bob Wasabi Kitchen, 39th World of Spirits and a hookah lounge.

The plan was to hire an arsonist to burn down the commercial building on the northeast corner of 39th and Bell streets in Kansas City and collect at least $1.5 million in insurance proceeds.

What the building’s owner didn’t know was that the would-be arsonist was an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which had been tipped off about the arson-for-hire plan by a confidential informant.

The building’s owner, 70-year-old Mia Lee Jamison of Gladstone, Missouri, offered the undercover agent $150,000, or 10% of the insurance proceeds, to torch the building, which housed a liquor and grocery store, a sushi bar and a hookah lounge.

Jamison wanted the fire to look like an accident, she told the undercover agent. The agent agreed to set the fire between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to minimize the risk to tenants.

At around 4 a.m. on April 29, 2019, federal investigators went to Jamison’s home and informed her that a fire had completely destroyed the eastern portion of the building and partially destroyed the western side.

Jamison told them she’d owned the building since 1985 or 1986, had a $2 million insurance policy on the building and was involved in litigation over the structure. When asked if she’d burned down the building herself or asked someone else to do so, she said no.

It was then that the investigators told her the building had not been damaged in a fire and arrested her.

Earlier this week, Jamison pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting someone to destroy the building by arson and a second count of lying to ATF investigators. She faces up to 10 years in prison and a $125,000 fine on the first count and up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the second count.

More than 30 years ago, a fire destroyed the smaller, western side of the building. It was rebuilt and, until recently, housed Bob Wasabi Kitchen, the sushi bar, and 39th World of Spirits, the liquor and grocery store.

giles theatre.jpg
Creative Commons
The Giles Theatre, a movie theater that once made up the eastern side of the building at 39th and Bell streets. The movie titles displayed on the marquee suggest the photo was taken in 1939.

The building has been fenced off since late last year and is no longer occupied. It’s now owned by Doug Price, a principal of the Price Brothers real estate development company.

Price could not be reached for comment about his plans for the building, which eight decades ago housed the Giles movie theater and in the intervening years has housed a multiplicity of businesses, including a hardware store.

But neighboring business owners said plans call for the building to be sold to a grocery store operator, which intends to convert it to a neighborhood grocery, liquor and convenience store.

“That’s a fantastic use, that’s the best thing that could happen to it,” said Tom Wayne, the owner of Prospero’s Books, a longtime neighborhood fixture directly west of the building.

“I’m really looking forward to it," Wayne said, "mostly because I’m sick of having to walk down the street to a liquor store. I just want to walk across the street to a liquor store.”

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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