Unity adult bookstore employee arrested for arson

Paul Peirce
| Friday, June 10, 2011

An employee of an adult bookstore on Route 30 near Latrobe was seen rushing into his Youngstown apartment and handing his wife stacks of money to hide just after midnight Thursday, police said.

A few hours later, 44-year-old Joseph Allen Pahel, a longtime employee of the bookstore in Unity, admitted to state troopers that he torched the place by lighting a rag on fire and leaving it atop a DVD player inside the store.

Pahel "confessed to stealing the $300 in cash and tried to cover it up making it look like someone broke in and set the place on fire," Trooper Jacob Andolina wrote in an affidavit of probable cause.

Pahel, who lives at 231 Main St., was arraigned yesterday before Unity District Judge Michael Mahady on two counts of arson, and single counts of theft, criminal mischief and recklessly endangering another person.

"It was good police work. They talked with people who were at the scene, which led them to the suspect," said state police spokesman Steve Limani.

According to the affidavit, Pahel's roommate, Thomas Felbaum, saw him handing stacks of cash wrapped in rubber bands to his wife, Nichol.

Felbaum heard Pahel instruct his wife "to hide" the money, Felbaum told police. Pahel then received a telephone call alerting him that the bookstore was on fire, and he returned to the store.

"Felbaum did not want any part of this, so he telephoned (the police) station of the possibility the accused set the fire," Andolina's affidavit stated.

The fire destroyed the bookstore, owned by Bargain Sales Inc., near St. Vincent College. The blaze caused more than $150,000 damage, according to Andolina, who was assisted by troopers Jason Morgan and Patrick Bradley.

Andolina reported that when Pahel initially was interviewed by Morgan and Bradley at the scene, Pahel denied setting the fire but admitted to stealing money.

During a subsequent interview at the police barracks near Greensburg, Pahel admitted to setting the fire, Andolina said.

Pahel said he stole the money because he needed it for his kids, police said.

For years, the bookstore has been the target of protest groups, including church groups that would videotape patrons entering the store and post the images on YouTube.

Limani emphasized that the arson had nothing to do with those pornography protests.

"This arson was to cover up a theft," he said.

No injuries were reported, but several firefighters were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion.

Fire crews battled the blaze for several hours, closing the westbound lanes of Route 30. Crews from several companies assisted Lloydsville Fire Department.

Westmoreland County 911 said flames were through the roof when firefighters arrived.

Pahel, who previously lived in Derry and Latrobe, was a victim of an attempted arson on April 29.

Latrobe police allege that Nadine Felbaum, 50, of 555 Lloyd Ave., Latrobe, set afire clothing thrown on the ground next to a wooden staircase leading into an apartment house where the Pahels were living. Any relationship between the Felbaums is unclear.

Latrobe Fire Department quickly extinguished that blaze.

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