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Press Release

Last Defendant in Arson and Insurance Fraud Scheme Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of West Virginia

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. –The last of four defendants from a Southern West Virginia family involved in an arson and insurance fraud scheme was sentenced in United States District Court announced United States Attorney Michael Stuart.  James “Punkin” Lester, 47, was sentenced to 17 years in prison following his August 2018 conviction on 23 separate felonies related to the scheme.  He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $505, 618.57 and ordered to forfeit an additional $120,000.

“17 years. Arson and insurance fraud are serious crimes for which every citizen pays the price,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  “Arson is not only a property crime but it risks lives as well.  It is gratifying when defendants like Lester are held accountable, not only by a sentence of incarceration, but by an order of restitution as well.” 

Between April of 2012 and January of 2016,  Lester, along with his father, Windel Lester, his brother, Greg Lester, his former step-mother, Georgetta Kenney,  and others, participated in various ways in three separate but interrelated schemes involving arson, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering. Their overall purpose was to enrich themselves by fraudulently obtaining insurance proceeds on houses they intentionally burned. The houses were insured for amounts greatly exceeding their value and the value of any contents. The houses were located at Matoaka in Mercer County, Huntington in Cabell County, and Ikes Fork in Wyoming County.

Windel Lester was convicted of 17 separate felonies.  His sentencing hearing was originally set along with James Lester’s.  However, Windel Lester died prior to his sentencing hearing.  Others involved included Dudley Bledsoe, Ricky Gleason, and James Browning, all of whom pled guilty and are serving prison sentences.

Senior United States District Judge David A. Faber presided over the trial and the sentencing hearing.  Agents with the West Virginia Insurance Commission, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the West Virginia State Police conducted the investigation.   Assistant United States Attorneys Philip H. Wright and R. Gregory McVey handled the prosecution.  


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Updated April 9, 2019