Homes bought cheap, burned for inflated claims
Fraud of the Month: November 2017
Arson rings round up dozens of homes to torch in arson spree
Homes and cars were kindling for Verdon Taylor, the overlord of a crime ring that lit up more than 30 arson fires to score nearly $1 million of insurance money.
Buy cheap and claim big was Taylor’s modus during a 16-year binge that traversed the Richmond, Va. area
Taylor’s rat pack bought homes and cars at auctions and foreclosure sales — all at steep discount prices. Single-family homes and mobile trailers and cars all were rounded up. Taylor’s cohorts often rented houses as well.
They stuffed the homes with old furniture and clothing they bought at flea markets or auctions. Several times they recycled furniture, using the same burned items singed in prior home fires.
They often brazenly set fires just weeks or even days after buying policies. The claims were inflated, as if the dusty old furniture was new. Fire claims ranged from $1,000 to $300,000. Ring members often lied about past home-fire claims when buying new policies.
Nearly entered burning home
Taylor’s son Vershawn bought a house at a steep discount, and set the place afire just eight days later.
A concerned neighbor wanted to risk his life to race into the home and see if anybody needed help escaping.
“Everybody should be mad. This is a crime against all of us,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.“He was about to run in the house ... I said ‘Don’t.’ ... It was engulfed and I didn’t know if it would blow up or anything,” his wife said.
The rescuer wisely stayed outside — he nearly put his life on the line for a home that was empty. Vershawn pulled down $303,000 of insurance money.
The feds started investigating as the fires and claims suspiciously piled up. Taylor issued a gag order to one ring member. “Tell those people to get out of your face,” Verdon ordered. Just hang up the phone whenever federal agents called him, he said.
Taylor will spend up to 50 years in federal prison after being convicted in October 2017. His girlfriend and Vershawn will spend up to 20 years of quality time behind bars.
Arson rings ransack South Florida
Stuffing homes with old furniture and clothing seems to be a habit with some arson rings. Five gangs ran amok in South Florida, launching an eye-popping $25-million insurance crime wave by torching dozens of homes.
Corrupt public adjusters led the rings. The adjusters exploited the insurance system to rubber-stamp false claims for payment. They typically rented homes, often large ones. They recruited cronies as straw owners, waited 90 days for the insurance to kick in, then started the fires.
The arsonists often filled homes with inexpensive old furniture and clothes. The stuff was stolen or bought from thrift shops — just like Verdon Taylor.
Often they placed a burning candle next to a fake plant or other flammable item. That sparked fires and created seemingly plausible excuses for the “accidental” blazes.
The sham renters made inflated claims for the junk possessions.
They even planted the same seared furniture, family pictures, bedding and other personal items in multiple homes they burned.
Closets sometimes were filled with sweaters. That seemed strange to investigators in a region known for year-around heat.
Innocent homeowners foreclosed
Two homes were the main income source for unsuspecting homeowners who rented their places to ring members. When the fires forced the renters out, the owners couldn’t pay their bills and lost their homes to foreclosure.
Home insurance arsons have fallen significantly in South Florida. Some would-be arsonists have fled the state rather than face prosecution and certain convictions. At least 75 others who stuck around were rounded up and have pleaded guilty.
“Everybody should be mad. This is a crime against all of us,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.