Hall of Shame 2010: Francis Fredette

By James Quiggle
January 2, 2011

Burglar turns broken back into fortune

spineTrying to burglarize a Mobil convenience one night, Francis Fredette crept onto the roof. Startled when a car approached, the Clarendon, Vt. man tumbled to the ground and broke his back.

He’d messed up a simple gas-station holdup. But lying painfully on the ground Fredette had a monumental moment of criminal clarity and launched a bigger robbery. He brazenly blamed the back injury on his innocent landlords, then demanded a fortune in an insurance shakedown that nearly ruined the landlords.

Fredette nearly got away with it. After the fall, he told his co-burglar Louis Stevens to drive him 40 painful miles back to his apartment building and plunk him down on the front doorsteps. Stevens then kicked out a stair tread at the top of the doorsteps, called an ambulance and had Fredette carted to the hospital.

Shakedown set in motion. Here’s a seemingly innocent guy in obvious pain, lying on the staircase, at night. The shakedown was in play.

Fredette sued his landlords only a month later. He lied that he broke his back by tripping and falling hard on a poorly maintained staircase. Fredette demanded that the landlords pay him for his pain and misery.

The swindle played out perfectly — at first.

Fredette’s lawsuit hauled in $700,000. The insurance company forked over $550,000. His landlords, Robert Steele and Martha Barrows-Steele, handed Fredette another $150,000 from their own pockets. That payout could’ve decimated the landlords’ lives; that money was a large part of their retirement fund. Flush with ill-gotten wealth, Fredette seemed home free. He lived the high life, bought a house and soon blew through the entire fortune.

Crony exposes con. Fredettte counted his money, but didn’t count on Stevens ruining his illegal money grab.

Stevens confessed the plot to investigators in a fit of conscience. His vital evidence led to Fredette’s conviction. Stevens had reformed his drug-ridden life, apologized profusely to the landlords, and was spared jail time.

But someone had to repay the stolen $700,000. Fredette was destitute after splurging on the payout. So the court ordered Stevens to repay the money instead.

An apparently changed man, he accepted this with dignity even though he’d never received a nickel of the money, according to news reports.

But Fredette remained remorseless despite the havoc he’d played with insurers and people’s lives. He received 46 months in federal prison.

“I think the offense was heinous, calculated and done over a period of time to collect a vast amount of money not caused in any way by the people (you) sued,” the judge told Fredette.

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