Insurance Fraud NEWS

Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

Missouri woman allegedly burns 5 nail salons, 2 firefighters die

July 19, 2018, Kansas City, MO — Thu Hong Nguyen has operated five nail salons dating back to 2006 and each one them had some kind of catastrophic event — usually a fire — that closed them down for good.

And in four cases, there has been an insurance payout, usually for much more than the purchase price of the business.

It’s a pattern that prosecutors emphasized Thursday in the fourth day of Nguyen’s arson and murder trial for the 2015 fire that resulted in the deaths of two Kansas City firefighters.

In all, Nguyen has benefited from $267,843 in business and personal insurance payments over the last dozen years, according to an analysis by Nikki Poirier, a forensic auditor specializing in arson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Nguyen has operated at least five nail salons from Texas to Grandview to Lee’s Summit to Kansas City. Only one has been in her name.

With the others, the signatories have included her son and her boyfriend. She ran each of them but she usually didn’t receive a paycheck or file a W-2 tax form. Yet the proceeds of each business appear to have been used for personal expenses, Poirier said.

Then there would be a fire or a burglary and an insurance claim.

“She would subsequently use these payouts to purchase a new company and start over,” Poirier testified.

But the latest setback for one of Nguyen’s salons was a catastrophic fire that destroyed a commercial and residential building in the 2600 block of Independence Avenue on Oct. 12, 2015. Firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio were killed and two other firefighters seriously injured when a brick wall collapsed on them while they fought the blaze from an alley.

Investigators pinpointed the origin to the storeroom of Nguyen’s LN Nails and Spa on the first floor and charged her with setting the fire. After Nguyen was arrested, according to testimony at her trial, she admitted guilt to a fellow detainee. She allegedly said she didn’t expect things to go wrong and that she had done it before and had never been investigated.

Here’s what Poirier found in her investigation:

▪ Nguyen and her ex-husband purchased a salon called PS Nails in Uvalde, Texas, in 2006 for $27,000. They operated for 16 months without business insurance. Then they took out aThe insurance payout was $30,286.

▪ The AV Nails salon in San Antonio, also associated with her ex-husband, was purchased for $38,000. It operated for just four months before it was destroyed by fire. The insurance payout was $62,344.

▪ Perfect Nails in Grandview was purchased for $15,000 in Nguyen’s son’s name. After eight months of operation the insurance was increased to $30,000. Two days later a burglary was reported. The insurance payout was $41,855.

▪ Nails USA in Lee’s Summit was purchased for $20,000, also in Nguyen’s son’s name. It was damaged by fire on July 25, 2013. The insurance payout was $51,873. (More on that fire below.)

▪ LN Nails and Spa was purchased for $20,000 in Nguyen’s boyfriend’s name. She has said she contributed $10,000. According to Nguyen, the arrangement was she kept all the cash receipts and he got the credit payments. She also got a 40 percent share of what her one employee made.

In January 2015 there was a relatively small fire in a vacant apartment directly above LN Nails, which received water damage when firefighters extinguished it. The insurance payout was $40,000.

There might have been another big insurance payout when the salon was destroyed by the deadly October 2015 fire. But after an initial $2,000 payout to Nguyen’s boyfriend, he withdrew the claim on the advice of his attorney, Poirier testified.

In all, Poirier found a total of 14 insurance claims associated with Nguyen, including personal insurance claims such as an auto accident and auto theft.

One was for a fire in her brother’s house, where she was living for a time. Unbeknownst to the brother, Poirier said, Nguyen had herself added to his homeowner policy and later named herself head of household. She received an insurance claim for $9,650.

Over the years, Poirier said, Nguyen has overstated business assets for insurance purposes and understated them for other purposes. She has received about $33,000 in food stamp assistance.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Molly Hastings said

Source: The Kansas City Star

< Back to stories list