Reserve man who burned housing unit sentenced

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011



LAPLACE – A Reserve man was recently sentenced to more than five years in prison for his role in a 2007 arson case involving a public housing unit in St. John the Baptist Parish, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier sentenced Lester Gardner Jr., 29, to a total of 69 months in jail during a hearing in federal court in New Orleans. Gardner pleaded guilty in June to arson and wire fraud charges for setting fire to the unit in an attempt to collect on a property insurance claim.

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

King and Gardner, who lived in the unit together, 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 Company that was transmitted by facsimile across state lines. The couple fraudulently received $800 for emergency living expenses.

King, who also pleaded guilty in June, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 6. Brown had previously pleaded guilty to his involvement in the arson and was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.

In addition to the jail time, Gardner was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following his prison term. He will be under federal supervision and risks an additional term of imprisonment should he violate any terms of his supervised release.