BLUEFIELD, WV (WOAY) – A third man pled guilty today in federal court for his roles in a scheme to commit insurance fraud by arson, announced United States Attorney Michael B. Stuart. James Keith Browning, age 54, of Hanover, Wyoming County, pled guilty to a charge of arson to commit wire fraud before Senior United States District Judge David A. Faber. 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 for their joint participation in the investigation.
“Insurance fraud and arson are serious crimes,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Arson risks property and lives and insurance fraud defrauds all of us. We will prosecute those crimes every chance we get.”
In the spring of 2013, Browning, Dudley Bledsoe and James “Punkin” Lester devised a scheme to purchase a house, place it in Browning’s name, obtain insurance on it and burn it to collect the proceeds. The property was located at 9068 Interstate Highway in Ikes Fork, West Virginia. Sometime during the week of August 12-16, 2013, Lester, Bledsoe and Browning manufactured an alibi they could use for when the house was burned. Sometime after the creation of the plan for the alibi, Bledsoe and Browning went to the house in Bledsoe’s vehicle to prepare the house to be burned. The house burned on August 16, 2013, while Browning and Lester were at the West Virginia State Fair. Browning then filed a fraudulent claim with the insurance company for the loss of the house and for items purportedly contained in the house. Ultimately, Browning received $100,000 from the insurance company for the false claim. Browning then divided the proceeds with Bledsoe and Lester. Browning faces 10 years imprisonment when he is sentenced on July 25, 2018.
Bledsoe, age 63, of Hanover, West Virginia, pled guilty on March 14 to related charges and is awaiting sentencing. Ricky Gleason, 54, of Peach Creek, West Virginia, also pled guilty on March 14 to related charges involving a similar scheme connected to a house in Huntington, West Virginia. The sentencing hearings for Bledsoe and Gleason is scheduled for May 30, 2018.
Windel Lester, James Edward Lester, also known as “Punkin,” Georgetta Kenney, and Greg A. Lester 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.