CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WVVA/AP) -- UPDATE 4/10/2019 @ 6:22 a.m.
A man has been sentenced to 17 years in prison in a West Virginia arson and insurance fraud scheme.
Federal prosecutors say 47-year-old James Lester was sentenced in federal court for his conviction on 23 felonies. Lester also was ordered to pay nearly $506,000 in restitution and forfeit an additional $120,000.
According to court records, Lester, his father and others devised a scheme to obtain insurance payouts on houses they intentionally burned and were insured for amounts far greater than their value. The houses were in Matoaka in Mercer County, Huntington in Cabell County, and Ikes Fork in Wyoming County.
Lester’s father, Windel Lester, was convicted of 17 felonies but died before his sentencing. Three others are serving prison sentences for their roles.
ORIGINAL STORY 11/18/17
Federal prosecutors shut down two local businesses, seized the property, and charged the owners with insurance fraud.
According to court documents obtained by WVVA, Windel Lester, 66, his ex-wife Georgetta Lester, 41, sons James Lester, 47, and Gregory Lester, 40, were involved in a scheme to buy two homes and burn them down to collect insurance money totaling more than $556,000.
The Lester family owned Lester Home Center, Inc. and Lester Mobile Home Sales, Inc. out of Ikes Fork, Wyoming County.
In the indictment, U.S. Attorney Carol Casto stated the family purchased a home on Smokeless Road in Matoaka, WV in August 2012 for $38,000 and immediately took out an insurance policy covering “approximately $196,000 for the dwelling and $147,000 for contents, personal property, and replacement costs.” In December of that year, the home burned to the ground. Casto stated that James Lester and another man used unscented candle oil and set fire to the bedroom and kitchen.
According to Casto, in April 2013, a piece of property was purchased in Cabell County for $72,500 and a large amount of insurance coverage was obtained. The property was burned down in May. Casto stated that carboard boxes soaked with unscented candle oil was used to start the fire.
The family faces a slew of charges including insurance fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, arson conspiracy, and money laundering.
Windel Lester, James Lester, and Gregory Lester are being held without bond in Southern Regional Jail.
"If convicted, the Lesters face up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering, and up to 10 years for money laundering. The fraud charges are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. Conspiracy to commit arson carries a penalty of 10 years in federal prison. The use of fire to commit a felony carries a sentence of up to 10 years, or, in Windel Lester and James Lester’s cases, a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for a second offense." --U.S. Attorney Carol A. Casto