CHIPLEY — Two Chipley residents were arrested on charges of insurance fraud on Oct. 17 in connection with a Dec. 28, 2011, residential fire.
Ruben Alonzo Laurel, 42, and Lorrie Ann Laurel, 47, both of Chipley were arrested on charges of insurance fraud (more than $20,000 and less than $100,000) by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on behalf of the state, according to an affidavit from the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.
The Laurels own Chipley Physical Therapy, as well as physical therapy businesses in Bonifay, Marianna and Graceville.
The residence at 4139 Crystal Lake Drive in Chipley was gutted by fire on Dec. 28 and was not the primary residence of the Laurels, but was used as a part-time residence at the lake, according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, expert analysis determined that 15 items claimed to have been lost in the fire were not present in the house at the time of the fire. The 15 items had a combined value of $64,759.10. Investigators say other items’ value had been inflated to exaggerate the insurance claim.
Insurance fraud (more than $20,000 and less than $100,000) is a second-degree felony.
“These allegations are not true,” said Ruben Laurel on Friday. “This has nothing to do with our practice, and we have hired an attorney to take care of it.”
Among the 15 items claimed lost were a Brunswick Bridgeport pool table, 250 CDs, 250 DVDS and 200 VHS tapes, 60 X-Box video games and 85 Wii video games, SCUBA tanks and regulators, 350 Barbie dolls, Pampered Chef kitchen utensils, 53 bottles of wine, champagne and liquor and two six-foot surf boards.
State Fire Marshal Matt Streichert investigated the fire scene on the night of the blaze and determined the fire originated in the kitchen area, causing extensive damage to the house. Jerry Troy Bradley, Lorrie Laurel’s brother, told the fire marshal that he had been cooking on the stove prior to leaving the house and possibly left cooking grease on the stovetop, forgetting to turn off the burner, according to the affidavit. He returned a short time later to find the fire department attempting to extinguish the fire.
The Laurels were insured by Cotton States Mutual Insurance Co. of Atlanta, and the fire took place one day prior to the policy cancellation date, according to the affidavit. They filed an insurance claim and provided a detailed listing of contents lost, with a loss valued at $435,905. Of that amount, $107,580.89 was for items purchased within one year of the insurance claim.
The insurer alleges items claimed as damaged or lost in the fire were not present at the time of the fire and/or have been inflated, according to the affidavit.
The Laurels were examined under oath, and upon review of the examination, Detective David Lindsay of the Division of Insurance Fraud learned the couple had claimed an extensive list of items lost or damaged in the house fire to include items not discovered in an investigation of the fire scene by Fire Investigator J. Michael Hawkins of Fire Analysis & Investigative Resources, according to the affidavit.
Cotton States Mutual Insurance Co. had hired Hawkins, who told the detective that 15 items on the claim were not present at the time of the fire, according to his investigation. The combined value of those items alone is $64,759.10.
Bradley F. Smith of Paul Davis Restoration in Panama City was hired to perform a detailed inventory of the debris in February, and he failed to locate items listed in the insurance claim at the fire scene.
Denise Zdenahlik, senior investigator with Cotton States Mutual Insurance Co., told Lindsay that the claim has not been settled and alleges that the Laurels’ insurance claim was inflated. She cited the example of an Atmosphere Air Purifier purchased from Amway that was lost in the fire. The Laurels listed the price of the air purifier as $1,150.25, while receipts from Amway show the actual price was $698.75. The air purifier was purchased on Dec. 21, eight days prior to the fire loss, according to the affidavit.