mcMaster fire arrest

Frank John Wilberding is arrested by a Columbia Police officer Tuesday in connection with a fire started at two homes owned by Gov. Henry McMaster.

COLUMBIA — The father of the 21-year-old Columbia man arrested in connection with a fire that damaged two rental homes owned by Gov. Henry McMaster said his son does not know why he was charged.

"He says he does not understand what's going on," said Ed Wilberding about his short conversation with his son, Frank, after his arrest Tuesday. "I think he's in some sort of shock."

Frank John Wilberding has lived in Columbia since the beginning of 2019 after spending nearly a year in the Los Angeles area to work on a hip-hop music career under the name Dank Frank, his father said. 

Frank Wilberding posted 27 songs online with titles including — "I Be Sellin Weed," "White Champagne," "Return to 843," "Codeine & Cocaine" and "Yahtzee."

"I don't think it turned out the way he wanted," said Ed Wilberding, who owns a Hilton Head Island sign shop. "He ran out of money. He needed to get a job and decide where to go from there."

Wilberding music

One of Frank Wilberding's hip-hop songs uploaded under the name "Dank Frank." The Columbia man charged in connection with setting the fire at two homes owned by Gov. Henry McMaster spent much of 2018 in the Los Angeles area trying to start a music career. 

Frank Wilberding is expected to have a bond hearing Thursday morning on two arson charges and a drug possession charge.   

He was arrested three blocks from the site of the blaze Tuesday in the 1700 block of Greene Street between the University of South Carolina and Five Points. No one was injured in the fire that displaced 12 people and caused an estimated $450,000 in damage to McMaster's homes.

No motive has been released, but authorities said they do not suspect the homes were targeted because McMaster owns them.

Ed Wilberding said his son could not name South Carolina's governor "even if I paid him $1 million."

Ed Wilberding said he was shocked when he learned of his son's arrest. He said he does not recall his son, who lived two blocks away from the blaze, ever lighting anything on fire. Frank Wilberding has no criminal record in South Carolina, and his father said he had not gotten into legal trouble in the past.

"This is very serious, I know," Ed Wilberding said. "He's a good-natured man. He wouldn't hurt a flea."

But a tenant said Tuesday she was dismayed someone set fire to occupied homes.

“Why would someone do that? What if someone died?” said Ariel Whitmire, a USC junior from Greenville.

Whitmire said she was unaware that any tenants knew the man they saw on surveillance recordings at the time the fire started.

Frank Wilberding's Instagram feed features short videos of him rapping, tributes to the late rapper Mac Miller and photos with him holding what appears to be marijuana.

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Ed Wilberding said he was aware of his son's online posts.

"I didn't follow that very much," he said. "It's a concern, and we have had conversations about it."  

The pair had spoken just a few times since Frank Wilberding returned to South Carolina this year. Frank Wilberding had a job in Columbia, but his father declined to describe the work. 

"I love him very much," Ed Wilberding said. "I'm very, very concerned." 

The fire was set on the porch at one of McMaster’s homes and spread to his neighboring house, authorities said. A separate fire was set Tuesday on a pile of debris behind another home a half-block away on Greene Street, but it burned out before causing major damage.

At noon Tuesday, six hours after the fire was first reported, Columbia Police and the State Law Enforcement Division arrested Frank Wilberding in connection with the fire.

The McMasters own 20 homes around Columbia, many near the USC campus, that they rent as their main source of income. The couple earns about $300,000 a year from the rentals, according to their tax returns.

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