A jury convicted an Arkansas developer on fraud charges, finding that he set fire to his $1.6 million family home in Little Rock in an effort to collect insurance proceeds.
Aaron Jones was convicted of three counts of mail fraud and one count of using fire to commit mail fraud, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller will decide whether Jones should be jailed pending sentencing, which usually occurs 60 to 90 days after the trial.
Jurors took only a few hours to consider the case on Sept. 28. They began deliberating at 12:40 p.m. and returned with verdicts just before 5:10 p.m.
Prosecutors accuse Jones of setting the house ablaze on May 30, 2008, then filing a $2.8 million insurance claim. A grand jury indictment said the fire occurred not long after Jones was unable to make a $331,000 balloon payment on the home.
Jones maintained his innocence throughout, telling investigators armed intruders bound him with duct tape, doused the home in diesel fuel and then set fire to it.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters called Jones’ story “absolutely false.” He cast doubt on whether armed intruders would return the crowbar to the place in the garage they found it after using it to break into the house.
“These are not only the neatest intruders in the world, they are the most efficient intruders in the world, because Aaron Jones says they did all that in 15 minutes,” Peters said.
Peters also cited the testimony of a forensic accountant who said Jones had a liquidity problem with his finances.
“Aaron Jones was a man who needed cash to keep up with his lifestyle,” Peters said. “He did not have the cash. He saw the writing on the wall. And so he burned his house down.”
Defense attorney Tim Dudley said the forensic accountant examined only bank records and no other financial documents. Other witnesses testified that Jones had money and therefore had no motive to set the fire.
Dudley said the prosecution botched the investigation by narrowly focusing on Jones. He said investigators ignored a possible lead about a car speeding off just before the fire was reported.
Other items — including the duct tape Jones said he was bound with — were discarded without DNA testing, Dudley said.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
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