Reserve couple plead guilty to insurance fraud charges

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2011



LAPLACE – A Reserve couple who purposely set fire to an apartment unit in order to collect on an insurance claim pleaded guilty Thursday to wire fraud charges in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

Niasha Marie King and Lester Gardner Jr., both 29, each entered their pleas before U. S. District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier. The couple lived together in an apartment in Reserve owned by the St. John the Baptist Parish Housing Authority that was set on fire in March 2007 as part of their plan to collect on insurance.

According to court documents, King and Gardner conspired with Orlando Lee Brown to start the fire in the couple’s East 13th Street apartment in exchange for the promise of compensation, which included possible insurance proceeds, property and later drugs.

King and Gardner removed some of their belongings from the apartment prior to the fire, which was started by Brown when he ignited a couch with some gasoline.

The fire destroyed King’s unit and an adjacent vacant unit in the same building. Authorities said Brown received no compensation for his role in the fire other than some marijuana from King before and after the incident.

In the investigation into the fire, King falsely claimed the fire was started by the apartment’s bad electrical wiring. King and Gardner then filed a false fire loss form with Union National Fire Insurance Co. that was transmitted by facsimile across state lines. The couple fraudulently received $800 for emergency living expenses.

King and Gardner face a maximum prison term of 69 months, followed by three years of supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 8.

Brown had previously pleaded guilty to his involvement in the arson and will be sentenced June 16.