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Press Release

KC Man Pleads Guilty to Arson, Insurance Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tom Larson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Kansas City, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to his role in a $235,000 arson and insurance fraud conspiracy.

Joseph Levi Little, 43, of Kansas City, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes to participating in a conspiracy to commit arson and mail fraud.

Little is the third defendant to plead guilty to his role in the scheme. Tina L. Shonk, 36, of Independence, Mo., was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison without parole. Roy Thieman, 32, of Kansas City, was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Shonk and Thieman to pay $242,717 in restitution to their victims and to forfeit to the government $62,364.

Shonk admitted that she led the arson and insurance fraud conspiracy in 2014. Shonk obtained renter’s insurance on a house she rented in the 3500 block of Garfield in Kansas City, Mo., then burned the house with the help of co-conspirators, and made false claims on the insured property. Conspirators also made plans to burn another house.

In January 2014 Shonk obtained renter’s insurance, claiming personal property valued at $82,000, much more than the value of her personal property. At the time, Shonk owed approximately $7,929 in back due rent and the gas had been shut off due to non-payment. On April 2 and 3, 2014, Shonk and her co-conspirators (including Little and Thieman) moved any personal property of value to a storage unit. They also moved damaged and broken electronic equipment and appliances into the house so that it would appear that valuable appliances were destroyed. By this time, Shonk owed $10,356 in back due rent and her landlord had begun eviction proceedings.

On April 4, 2014, Shonk, Little and Thieman set fire to the house by covering a space heater with a blanket and setting fire to the blanket, and then leaving the house. The Kansas City Fire Department extinguished the fire but the house was a total loss.

After the fire, Shonk submitted fraudulent personal property claims totaling $112,789, although several witnesses and Shonk’s landlord estimated Shonk’s property to be valued at only approximately $500. The insurance company paid Shonk $57,364; she paid Little $4,000 and Thieman $2,500.

The owner of the house had an insurance policy that paid out a total of $173,100.

In May 2014, Shonk and Thieman moved into a house in the 3800 block of Pittman Road in Kansas City, Mo., a property managed by a fourth co-conspirator. On Oct. 18, 2014, police arrested this co-conspirator and found a letter from Thieman to Shonk outlining a plan to repeat the arson insurance fraud scheme at the house on Pittman Road. Thieman wrote a letter to Shonk outlining plans to insure their personal property and then burn the house, stating in part, “there can be no evidence, nor signs of foul play, or accelerant.”

Under federal statutes, Little is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen D. Mahoney. It was investigated by the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Updated June 7, 2017

Financial Fraud