UPDATE: WYOMING COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – Four family members have been sentenced in an arson and insurance fraud scheme in West Virginia after a joint investigation by state and federal agencies.
The West Virginia Offices of the Insurance Commissioner, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the West Virginia State Police investigated the case. The family members insured houses and contents for amounts exceeding their value, then intentionally burned the house to collect insurance proceeds.
James “Punkin” Lester was the last family member to be sentenced. He was sentenced to seventeen (17) years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $506,618.57 and ordered to forfeit an additional $120,000, for his conviction on twenty-three (23) separate felonies related to the scheme.
“Insurance fraud affects every West Virginian’s insurance premiums,” Insurance Commissioner Jim Dodrill said. “Our office is committed to investigating reported fraud and seeking the appropriate actions to eliminate fraudulent acts in our market.”
To report suspected insurance fraud, call the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner’s Fraud Division toll free at 1-800-779-6853.
UPDATE: 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.
UPDATE: MERCER COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – A federal jury sitting in Charleston returned guilty verdicts following the trial of four family members from southern West Virginia. 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 an arson and insurance fraud scheme.
Windel Lester was found guilty of 17 felony charges and faces 340 years imprisonment. James “Punkin” Lester was found guilty of 23 felony charges and faces 475 years imprisonment. Georgetta Lester Kenney was found guilty of 7 felony charges and faces 140 years imprisonment. Greg Lester was found guilty of 4 felony charges and faces 80 years imprisonment. Sentencing hearings for the defendants are scheduled for December 20, 2018.
Between April of 2012 and January of 2016, the defendants, along with others, participated in various ways in three separate but interrelated schemes involving arson, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering. Their overall purpose was to enrich themselves by fraudulently obtaining insurance proceeds on houses they intentionally burned. The houses were insured for amounts greatly exceeding their value and the value of any contents. The houses were located at Matoaka in Mercer County, Huntington in Cabell County, and Ikes Fork in Wyoming County.
Others involved included Dudley Bledsoe, Ricky Gleason, and James Browning, all of whom pled guilty and cooperated in the prosecution of the Lester family.
ORIGINAL STORY (11/17/2017)
WYOMING CO., WV (WOAY) – The Lester family is fairly well known throughout Wyoming County. They own the Lester Home Center and Lester Mobile Home Sales.
Now, instead of helping people buy or furnish their homes, they’re charged with buying homes and burning them down for insurance money.
Court documents show that Windel Lester, his ex-wife Georgetta, and sons James and Gregory, came up with a scheme to buy two vacant houses, torch them, then collect the insurance money. They got more than $550,000, which they split four ways.
The Feds shut down their two businesses.
The two properties are in Matoka, which is in Mercer County, and in Huntington.
At last check, Windel, James and Gregory are at the Southern Regional Jail without bond.
Here’s the news release from the US Attorney in Charleston:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A federal grand jury sitting in Charleston indicted four defendants from McDowell County on Wednesday for federal insurance fraud crimes, announced United States Attorney Carol Casto. Windel Lester, 66, James Edward Lester, 47, Gregory A. Lester, 40, and Georgetta Lester, 41, all of Iaeger, were charged with federal crimes including conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, and mail fraud. A copy of the indictment is attached.
The indictment alleges that between April of 2012 and April of 2014, the Lesters and others devised a scheme to defraud an insurance company by buying vacant properties, insuring the properties, setting fires to the properties in order to makes insurance claims, submitting false insurance claims, and receiving over $550,000 in insurance payments made on the false insurance claims. The properties involved in the alleged fraud were a residence at 101 Smokeless Road in Matoaka, Mercer County, and 3542 Norwood Road in Huntington, Cabell County. The indictment also alleges that after the Lesters received the insurance money, they laundered the money through at least two banks in southern West Virginia. Windel Lester was a member of the Board of Directors of one of the banks.
If convicted, the Lester’s face up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering, and up to 10 years for money laundering. The fraud charges are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. Conspiracy to commit arson carries a penalty of 10 years in federal prison. The use of fire to commit a felony carries a sentence of up to 10 years, or, in Windel Lester and James Lester’s cases, a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for a second offense.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.