Authorities charged an Indiana man February 21 with burning seven churches in the state since 1994.

In an affidavit, Jay Scott Ballinger, 36, of Yorktown, Indiana, told federal authorities he may have burned as many as 50 churches in the past five years.

Ballinger is being held in federal custody in Indianapolis. The penalty for each charge is 5 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

"These fires may have scorched the structures, but they did not sear the spirit of the communities in which the churches are located," says Bill Lann Lee, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights and cochair of the National Church Arson Task Force, which includes local, state, and federal authorities.

Accomplices Donald A. Puckett, 37, of Lebanon, Indiana, and Angela Wood, 24, of Athens, Georgia, were charged with Ballinger in setting fire to the Concord Church of Christ in Lebanon in 1994. The trio painted satanic symbols on the church before they torched it, authorities say.

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