Man gets 5 years for setting fire to Southwest Side Walgreens amid 2020 looting

Jose Valdovinos pleaded guilty in May, acknowledging he started a fire in a white bucket in the pharmacy area of the store in the 4000 block of West 59th Street. That fire spread, and prosecutors say it led to the collapse of the roof and the closure of the store.

SHARE Man gets 5 years for setting fire to Southwest Side Walgreens amid 2020 looting
A Chicago police vehicle sits in front of a boarded up Walgreens at 8628 South Cottage Grove Ave. on June 1, 2020, after a string of looting that occurred throughout the city amid protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Jose Valdovinos was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison Friday for setting fire to a Walgreens store on the city’s Southwest Side in June 2020.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

A federal judge handed a mandatory-minimum five-year prison sentence Friday to a man who admitted setting fire to a Southwest Side Walgreens store amid the rioting and looting in Chicago in 2020.

Explaining his reasoning to Jose Valdovinos, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly called the crime “really extraordinarily serious” and stressed that it went beyond the $2.5 million loss prosecutors say it caused to Walgreens.

“The folks who were out protesting on those nights … were legitimately protesting a horrible thing that had happened and bringing attention to it,” Kennelly said. “And then there were people like Mr. Valdovinos who, you know, chose to use that as an opportunity to trash things, steal things, burn things down and so on. And it just defiles the legitimate advocacy that people were doing.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kavitha Babu wrote in a court memo last month that Valdovinos took advantage of the protests over the murder of George Floyd.

“The fact that no one was injured or killed in the fire is dumb luck,” Babu wrote.

Valdovinos pleaded guilty in May, acknowledging he started a fire in a white bucket in the pharmacy area of the store in the 4000 block of West 59th Street. That fire spread, and prosecutors say it led to the collapse of the roof and the closure of the store.

Before he was sentenced, Valdovinos told the judge what he did was “terrible.”

“It’s a horrible crime,” Valdovinos said. “It’s no excuse to say that I was on drugs, that I don’t remember. … I’m going to step up and take full responsibility for what I did.”

Babu wrote that Valdovinos and two friends trespassed into the Walgreens store around 1 a.m. on June 1, 2020, entering through the back storage area. They then entered the retail floor and began filling large garbage bags with merchandise before carrying them out to their cars, according to the prosecutor.

Other unknown people were also looting the store at the time, records show.

Eventually, Valdovinos entered the pharmacy employee area, hid between two shelves, re-emerged after 45 seconds and grabbed a large white bucket, then hid again, according to the prosecutor. That’s when she said Valdovinos started the fire.

Valdovinos then left the pharmacy, records show. Thirteen minutes later, smoke filled the pharmacy and the fire eventually spread to the rest of the store, according to the feds. Valdovinos and his friends left the store through the back storage area, though Valdovinos tried unsuccessfully to set another fire.

Twenty minutes later, the feds say, the pharmacy was engulfed in flames.

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