Arson spree goes up in smoke

By James Quiggle
May 6, 2008
Kenneth Allen was a walking, talking, building-burning contradiction. He was an ex-cokehead, but also masterminded a massive home-arson spree that torched at least 50 homes netted him and his band of cash-happy cohorts at least $1 million in bogus insurance claims.

Allen was the ringleader of a 30-person arson gang operating around Indianapolis and Muncie. His arson-wielding army had a recipe for fire fraud they stuck with again and again.

Gang members bought cheap fixer-uppers and load them with used furniture and second-hand appliances. The gang then staged “accidental” fires, leaving old blankets on space heaters or food in the frying pan and walked away. When the houses went up in smoke, the Allen arson squad made huge, often inflated claims against the houses.

Branson Burner

Take Muncie native Dujuan Branson, a capo-de-capo in Allen’s cash-flush arson army. Branson reportedly bought one of those fixer-upper homes, hauled in some used furniture, and beat feet before two cronies burnt the place to the ground. Prosecutors say the cronies hauled in $3,500 a piece while Branson allegedly used the insurance bonanza to buy another house. Overall, the fraudsters often netted up to $160,000 in insurance claims, with the average claim over the four-year spree ranging between $80,000 and $90,000. Insurance companies bilked by the Allen gang included Nationwide, Ohio Casualty, Farmer's Insurance, State Farm Insurance, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, American Insurance, Auto Owners Insurance, and Ocwen Mortgage.

Another foot soldier in Allen’s fraud patrol, Stanley Benford, reportedly bought another Indianapolis area home for $32,500 and garnered a cool $100,000 from an insurance claim after the home went up in flames. He paid two local goons $5,000 to torch the home, netting himself about $58,000 in profits, prosecutors say.

The gang’s sloppiness finally caught up to them as insurance investigators took a closer look. One Muncie residence was purchased for about $20,000 but was insured for $150,000, even though the owner was jobless and had never filed a tax return. Another home had no furniture, but did have a large-screen television, a video game console, and a space heater all plugged in to one outlet.

Cripple Effect

The game was really up when investigators at Nationwide Insurance noticed that the same names kept popping up in 26 Indianapolis-area arson claims. The same insurance adjuster, Douglas Haynes, kept appearing on the claims. Haynes allegedly paved the way for the hefty insurance checks by processing about “90 percent” of the bogus claims, say prosecutors. Investigators quickly moved to cripple Allen’s operation.

What started as a small series of arsons for spare cash had quickly spiraled into a juggernaut that even Allen couldn’t control once his cronies saw the cash potential. Allen seemed dazed by it all at his sentencing. He received four years and must repay $1 million to the bilked insurers.

“Mistake is not the word,” Allen told the federal judge.

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