Old homes and junky 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 burning ambition during a 16-year arson binge that lit up the Richmond, Va. area

Taylor’s rat pack bought homes and cars at auctions and foreclosure sales — all at steep discount prices. 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. Taylor’s son Vershawn bought a house at a big discount, and set the place ablaze just eight days later. A concerned neighbor wanted to risk his life to race into the home and see if anybody needed help escaping. “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 turned out to be empty. Vershawn pulled down $303,000 of insurance money for that fire. The feds started investigating as the fires and claims suspiciously piled up. Taylor ordered one cohort to obstruct investigators. “Tell those people to get out of your face,” Verdon commanded. Just hang up the phone whenever federal agents called him, he told his troops. 

Taylor will spend up to 50 years in federal prison after being convicted in October 2017.

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