A scrappy Beverly Councilman who often found himself in the limelight in the city's rough and tumble politics came home from a shopping trip with his family Monday night to see his house in flames.
For two hours, the two-alarm fire raged, punctuated by loud popping sounds. Luis Crespo, who served six years on council, including five as president, said the house is now uninhabitable and that the family's cat is missing.
"I am grateful my family is okay and want to thank the hundreds of people that offered their support," Crespo said, as he and his friends began boarding up the duplex, a few blocks from the Beverly National Cemetery, Tuesday afternoon.
Crespo, a landscaping contractor, said the family "lost everything." He and his wife have two children, ages 6 and 9. They plan to temporarily stay with relatives.
He said that in 2010 his truck had been wired with some kind of device while parked in front of his house. The Burlington County prosecutor's office investigated but would not comment on its findings.
Crespo, who had switched parties from Republican to Democrat the year he was elected to council, has felt a different kind of heat as council president. "I held people to the fire and we let people go for not doing their job," he said.
He also had clashes with a few other council members and party officials.
In 2008, a municipal judge found former school board president Robert Thibault guilty of harrassing Crespo. Thibault, who at the time was a vice-president of the local GOP committee, was fined for leaving a profanity-laced message on Crespo's cellphone calling him a dead man. Thibault admitted making the call but questioned why Crespo waited five months, until the eve of an election, to press charges.
Other council members claimed Crespo carried a tape recorder in his pocket and secretly recorded conversations. They said that he caused problems.
After Crespo lost a Democratic primary in June, he was appointed to council for an unexpired term in December when another councilman resigned. Some council members said he should not be seated again, after losing the election, but he accused Republicans of interfering with the primary race. The Democratic majority on council tapped him to serve another term.