Man pleads guilty to setting fire at Pizzeria Mozza during protests

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A man charged with setting fire to the Hancock Park building that houses Pizzeria Mozza during May 2020 protests over the murder of George Floyd pleaded guilty Monday to a federal arson charge.

Mario Ernesto Alvarado of South Los Angeles was indicted in August 2020 on one count of arson for setting fire to the commercial building on Melrose Avenue, according to federal prosecutors. He walked into the building on May 30, 2020, the second night of civil unrest across Los Angeles, sprayed a flammable liquid on the ground and set a fire, prosecutors said.

Alvarado, 44, changed his initial not-guilty plea as part of an agreement with the federal government.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in June by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner.

The fire caused an estimated $300,000 in structural damage and an additional $50,000 in damage to the restaurant’s merchandise and property. Pizzeria Mozza and a connected shop were closed at the time due to citywide curfew orders stemming from the civil unrest.

Tips from the public led authorities to Alvarado, and police who searched his home found the same T-shirt and hat he wore the night of the arson, according to court records. Authorities also found a can of lighter fluid in the back of Alvarado’s Ford Focus, which he drove to and from the scene of the crime.

The fire was set on the first full day that dine-in services resumed in Los Angeles after the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. That reopening was followed by another night of unrest that saw some protests marred by vandalism and thefts, and demonstrators were met with projectiles and tear gas from police.

Michael Krikorian — a former Times reporter and partner to Nancy Silverton, chef and owner of the four Mozzaplex restaurants — said the fire inside the Mozza2Go shop left a table and some books charred. Television footage from that night showed smoke billowing out of the building and a row of firetrucks on Melrose Avenue.

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