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Finances Surface in Fatal Fire

December 9, 1999

LONSDALE, Minn. (AP) _ A man who died in a suspicious farmhouse fire that killed five others struggling with legal and financial problems before the blaze, court records show.

Autopsies were being performed Thursday to determine whether the bodies were those of Primitivo Juan Rivas, 48; his son, Tyler, 16, and daughter, KiAnn, 20; Rivas’ girlfriend, Catherine Ranft, 38, and her children, Caroline, 4, and Meredith, age 5 or 6.

Investigators hoped to learn whether they died in the fire early Wednesday, or were killed before it.

Rice County Sheriff Richard Cook said gasoline found at the scene, the position of the bodies in the rubble and the location of charred vehicles near the house were among the signs that the fire was deliberately set.

Rivas was supposed to start serving a 90-day jail sentence Monday for failing to pay child support, according to court records. A warrant for his arrest was issued when he did not appear.

Court records and the husband of Rivas’ ex-wife indicated that Rivas, a computer engineer, had been out of work for more than a year and that he was not seeking a job, apparently because he didn’t want his money going to his former wife.

``He was very vengeful, threatened to take her down financially after the divorce,″ said Gary Hanneman of Burnsville, whose wife, Debra, was married to Rivas for 21 years. ``That’s what he told the kids.″

As part of the divorce, Rivas was saddled with $30,000 in unpaid bills, mostly credit card bills.

Rivas owed more than $10,000 in child support, medical support and spousal maintenance as of March, court records show. As of October, he hadn’t made a mortgage payment for six months.

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