- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

The private security company hired to protect an upscale Charles County, Md., development that burned in a series of coordinated arson attacks last week is one of the nation’s largest, providing thousands of guards and private investigators in dozens of states.

The guards at the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head, where dozens of homes burned, worked for Security Services of America Inc. (SSA), a North Carolina-based company recently purchased by ABM Industries Inc. of San Francisco for more than $40 million.

The whereabouts of the guards assigned to the development, off Route 225, have become a crucial question for investigators as they try to find out who set fire to the houses.

Residents had said a guard left the development at about 4 a.m. last Monday, about 45 minutes before the fires were set.

The local branch for SSA is about 30 minutes from the development, in an office park in Lanham on Annapolis Road. Local company officials said they have been ordered to refer questions about the fires to the company’s headquarters in Morehead City, N.C.

However, Anne Lee, a branch manager for the Maryland branch of SSA office, confirmed that investigators have been questioning the company’s guards.

“Yes, they have talked with our employees,” she said. “We are cooperating.”

Officials at the company’s headquarters directed questions to Neil Mayzik, director of administration for SSA. Numerous messages left at his office were not returned.

A spokesman for ABM Industries called the internal investigation a “purely organizational matter,” saying the company wouldn’t be getting involved.

The fires destroyed 10 houses under construction and damaged 16 others. No one was injured, but the fires caused at least $10 million in damage. The houses were priced between $400,000 and $500,000.

Some residents who fled the 10-acre development right after the fire call at 4:45 a.m. said the guard from SSA was not on the job at the time.

However, a supervisor reportedly had checked on the guard who was on duty at 3:30 a.m. That supervisor also told police that he had seen a blue van near the construction site, but could not see the driver or passengers.

Arriving firefighters also reported seeing the van. Investigators are searching for the van and other witnesses who can help authorities track down the arsonists.

Maryland officials say SSA was licensed to provide services in the state in 2000. The company is owned by James C. Stevens of Morehead City, N.C., according to corporate records.

A survey in Security Magazine, a trade publication, earlier this year listed Security Services among the largest companies of its kind in the country, with annual revenues of $80 million and more than 5,000 full- and part-time employees.

The company’s Web site, www.teamssa.com, says it provides classroom training for its guards on private security, report writing, legal liability issues and patrol techniques.

The average salary for security guards in Maryland is $27,480 per year, or $13.21 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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