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Judge Denies Bail Increase in Arson Case

— A judge today denied a prosecutor's request to increase the $2 million bail for a Ramona businessman accused of orchestrating a plan to blow up a rental home he owned to collect insurance money.

Kurtenbach, 48, allegedly persuaded 24-year-old Joseph Nesheiwat to start a fire at the Mt. Woodson property. Nesheiwat, who worked for Kurtenbach at his gas station, died in the blast, which occurred last Halloween.

The bail increase bid by prosecutor Fiona Khalil came 12 days after James Kurtenbach was slapped with a restraining order and told to stop harassing a couple he says owes him money.

Bob and Denise Woodward told Judge Herbert Exarhos Tuesday that Kurtenbach had called, pounded on their door repeatedly, and even pestered Bob Woodward on a road in an effort to collect a debt.

But Exarhos ruled today that Kurtenbach's actions did not warrant an increase in his bail. The defendant posted the $2 million bond in February and is free pending his trial, which is scheduled for January.

The judge did, however, add a number of conditions to Kurtenbach's bail, including a waiver for police to search his person or property at any time and for the defendant to have no contact with witnesses who testified at a preliminary hearing earlier this year.

County prosecutors also have accused Kurtenbach of owing about $3 million in back taxes on his Ramona gas station. In 2006, a jury in Nebraska found him guilty of doctoring tax returns in connection with one of his gas stations in order to inflate the selling price of that property.

Kurtenbach faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder, plus another 18 years behind bars if found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson with the intent to defraud, tax evasion, failure to withhold payroll taxes and failure to obtain workers' compensation insurance.

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