Fraud News: Arson, Public Adjuster Pockets Over $1M in Insurance Proceeds

Two Plead Guilty to Insurance Fraud by Arson

Two men pled guilty today in federal court for their respective roles in a scheme to commit insurance fraud by arson, announced United States Attorney Michael B. Stuart. Dudley Bledsoe, age 63, of Hanover, Wyoming County, and Ricky Dwayne Gleason, age 54, of Peach Creek, Logan County, both pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful monetary transactions before Senior District Court Judge David A. Faber in Bluefield. United States Attorney Mike Stuart commended the work of the United States Postal Inspection Service, the West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

In the spring of 2012, Bledsoe, with the assistance of James Edward Lester, also known as “Punkin,” and others, purchased a house in Matoaka, Mercer County. The purchase price was approximately $38,000. They insured the property for over $300,000 and set fire to the house in December of 2012 using cardboard and unscented candle oil. Bledsoe, with the help of others, then filed false claims for the house and its contents. Bledsoe collected the proceeds and divided the proceeds with others involved in the scheme.

In May of 2013, Gleason purchased a house in his name on Norwood Road in Huntington, West Virginia for $100,000 and insured it for over $400,000. Funds for the purchase were provided by others involved in the scheme. The next month, Gleason and others staged the house to be burned using cardboard and unscented candle oil. While Gleason was out of town in order to concoct an alibi, others connected with the scheme set fire to the house. Gleason filed a claim for the loss of the house as well as false contents lists with the insurance company and collected over $280,000 in insurance proceeds. The proceeds were divided with others in the scheme.

Bledsoe and Gleason each face up to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $250,000 fine when they are sentenced on May 30, 2018. Windel Lester, James Edward Lester, also known as “Punkin,” Georgetta Kenney, Greg A. Lester and James Keith Browning are currently facing charges in a 40 count indictment for their respective roles in the scheme. Their trial is set for May 8, 2018, in Bluefield.

Source: Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of West Virginia

Washington Trio Sentenced for Buying Property Insurance After the Fact

Three people were sentenced to community service after pleading guilty to charges related to purchasing insurance after incurring property losses. Charges were filed after investigations by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU).

Hashim Makawi, 40, of Everett, was sentenced in Snohomish County Superior Court to 80 hours of community service and to pay $10,858 in restitution and $700 in court fees, all of which he has completed. Makawi pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted theft in December 2017.

According to the investigation, Makawi purchased renter insurance from Assurant Specialty/American Bankers Insurance on May 11, 2016, and the next day filed a water-damage claim following a garbage can fire in his apartment. Records from the Everett Fire Department show the fire occurred the day before he bought the policy.

Makawi failed to appear in Snohomish County Superior in September and was listed on Kreidler’s insurance fraud most wanted. He reported to the court in October to face the charges against him.

Charles Bjork, 45, formerly of Everett, was sentenced in Snohomish County Superior Court to 80 hours of community service, which he’s already completed, and to pay a $300 fine and $700 in court fees. Bjork pleaded guilty to attempted insurance fraud on Dec. 20.

According to the investigation, Bjork purchased a Progressive auto insurance policy on Jan. 21, 2016, after having a collision on the freeway that morning. That evening, he filed a $6,475 claim for the vehicle’s total loss.

Jasmine McQuiston, 33, of Federal Way, will serve 40 hours of community service and pay $700 in court fees after pleading guilty last month to second-degree attempted theft. She was charged in November 2017 in King County Superior Court with one count of making a fraudulent insurance claim.

According to the investigation, McQuiston filed a claim with GEICO in August 2016 for damage to her vehicle. She reported that her 2010 GMC Terrain rolled backwards into a concrete barrier and was damaged while it was parked overnight. GEICO determined that McQuiston renewed her expired auto policy the same day her car was damaged in a hit-and-run collision and was impounded by police. GEICO denied the claim and referred the case to Kreidler’s CIU.

Source: Office of the Insurance Commissioner Washington State

Public Adjuster Gets 10 Year Prison Term for Embezzling From Fire Victims

An Orange County, Calif., public adjuster was sentenced to 10 years in state prison today for pocketing more than $1.2 million from fire victims’ insurance payouts, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced.

Jose Villa, of San Clemente, pleaded no contest to eight felony counts of diverting construction funds exceeding $2,350, Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Stodel of the White Collar Crime Division said. Villa also admitted to sentencing enhancement allegations of excessive taking of property and aggravated white collar crime.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor immediately sentenced Villa to prison. The judge also imposed a $10,000 fine and ordered restitution to the victims in the amount of $1,213,227.23.

According to Stodel, Villa was a licensed public adjuster who owned and operated Statewide Claims Advisors Inc. in Irvine. The victims in this case were the owners of a commercial building in Whittier and the owner of a residential rental property in Los Angeles. The victims had hired Villa to serve as their public adjuster after their properties were damaged in fires in 2013.

The prosecutor said Villa deposited the victims’ insurance reimbursement checks into his business checking account, ostensibly so he could handle demolition and construction at the victims’ properties in the months following the fires. However, he kept most of the insurance money instead of using it for the victims’ benefit, Stodel said.

The District Attorney’s Office filed charges on Oct. 4, 2017.

The case was investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Commercial Crime Bureau and the California Department of Insurance.

As part of the negotiated plea agreement, a seven-year prison sentence that Villa is serving for another insurance fraud case will run concurrently to the 10-year term imposed in this case. In the earlier case, Villa was convicted in May 2017 of two felony counts each of grand theft by embezzlement and forgery for taking insurance proceeds from other fire victims.

As a result of Villa’s conduct, the California Department of Insurance revoked Villa’s license to serve as a public adjuster and permanently barred him from applying for or holding any license it issues.

Source: Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office