BLUEFIELD, WV (WOAY) – Two Wyoming County men were sentenced today in federal court for their respective roles in a scheme to commit insurance fraud by arson
Dudley Bledsoe, 63, of Hanover, was sentenced to 24 months in prison and ordered to pay $294,085.07 in restitution. Bledsoe previously pled guilty to an unlawful monetary transaction charge. James Keith Browning, 54, also of Hanover, was sentenced to 50 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $211,553.50. Browning previously pled guilty to arson to commit wire fraud.
“Greed leads to reckless, dangerous behavior,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Crimes that endanger lives and property will be prosecuted every day of the week by this United States Attorney.”
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 the spring of 2013, Browning, 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, 2013, Lester, Bledsoe and Browning manufactured an alibi they could use for when the house was burned. 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.
Four other defendants involved in the scheme were convicted following a five-day jury trial in Charleston. The jury found Windel Lester, 67, his ex-wife Georgetta Lester Kenney, 42, and Windel Lester’s sons, James “Punkin” Lester, 48, and Greg Lester, 41, guilty of various charges related to the arson and insurance fraud scheme. Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for December 20, 2018.