CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a 42-year-old Camanche woman has been found guilty in an insurance fraud case involving a fire that destroyed her boyfriend's vacant house.
A news release from federal prosecutors for Iowa says Beth Galloway was convicted Wednesday by jury of mail fraud, using fire to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Prosecutors say Galloway twice drove a minor to James Plower's vacant home in Martelle, Iowa, to attempt to set fire to it. Plower eventually deliberately set fire to the house and then collected more than $66,000 from his insurance company to cover the loss.
Plower is serving 13 years in federal prison for his part in the fraud.
CEDAR RAPIDS — The girlfriend of a convicted former Jones County Sheriff’s deputy and volunteer firefighter has been charged in federal court for participating with him in a scheme to defraud an insurance company involving arson.
Beth Galloway, 41, of Olin, on Monday was charged with one count of mail fraud in U.S. District Court. She is accused of participating with James Plower, 51, of Olin, who admitted to burning down his house in Martelle in 2013 in order to collect $150,000 in insurance money. He was convicted of mail fraud and use of fire to commit a felony last year and is serving 13 years in federal prison. He also was ordered to pay more than $152,000 in restitution to the insurance company.
Plower resigned from the sheriff’s department in March 2014, after the investigation started.
An affidavit filed in Galloway’s case shows Plower planned to burn down the house and Galloway, at least, knew of the plan. They couldn’t afford the needed repairs and wanted to rebuild on the foundation. Plower’s ex-wife told a fire marshal in 2014 that he made statements to her about burning down the property while they were married. They divorced in 2002, according to documents.
The ex-wife also told authorities Plower told her he would make it look like an electrical malfunction or make it look like a cat knocked over a candle and started the fire, the affidavit shows.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Plower’s case, he moved out of his Martelle house and then insured the house for damage and loss as a result of fire. The insurance policy didn’t cover loss or damage deliberately caused by the insured.
Plower told police Galloway wasn’t involved, according to the affidavit, but admitted some of the insurance money went to pay Galloway’s car payments and other bills. During a search of their home, investigators seized $5,320 in cash.
Plower eventually told investigators that Galloway attempted to start a fire at the house in the bathroom before he first tried to start a fire. He said Galloway knew what he was planning.
In December 2014, an Olin city clerk, who was friends with Galloway, told investigators that after the house fire, the couple brought her $10,000 and told her they didn’t want authorities to seize it as part of their investigation. At some point, Galloway told the clerk that Plower set the fire.
On June 15, Plower, from prison, told investigators Galloway used $2,000 to help her father and another $4,000 went to Galloway’s attorney for her child custody case.
Galloway also faces a second-degree arson charge in the Martelle house fire in Jones County District Court, court documents show.
Girlfriend to stand trial in deputy’s arson case
An Olin woman will face trial next week for allegedly participating with a former Jones County Sherriff’s deputy to burn down a house in Martelle, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Beth Galloway, 41, is currently charged in Jones County with arson in the second degree relating to the incident. Her trial is set for Aug. 9 at the Jones County Courthouse in Anamosa. Her attorney, John Bishop, was contacted for comment but had not responded by Tuesday morning.
Former Jones County Sheriff’s Deputy and former Martelle volunteer firefighter Jim Plower pleaded guilty on Feb. 20, 2015, to one count of mail fraud and one count of use of fire in commission of another felony, according to the affidavit.
On June 10, 2015, Plower was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. Plower is currently in custody at the Bureau of Prisons at FCI Sandstone, located in Minnesota.
The investigation began with an arson tip, which was left on the Minnesota Arson Hotline by Plower’s ex-wife. She reported information regarding a fire that occurred in July or August of 2013 and said Plower was responsible for the fire.
According to the affidavit, during their marriage Plower told his wife he would start a fire and make it look like it was an accident occurring from an electrical malfunction or make it look like a cat knocked over a candle and started a fire. The couple divorced in 2002, according to the affidavit.
Plower was employed as a Jones County Sheriff’s deputy at the time of the fire and was a former volunteer firefighter on the Martelle Volunteer Fire Department.
The fire occurred on July 25, 2013. Smoke started coming out of a house located at 405 South Street in Martelle. The Martelle Fire Department was called to the scene at 5:32 a.m.
Martelle Fire Chief Tapken reported the fire as an accident caused by faulty electrical equipment in the hunting room, which was in the northwest side of the house. Tapken spoke with Plower at the fire scene, and Plower said he was beginning renovation work at the house the day before the fire.
It was not an accident though.
According to the affidavit, Plower said during an investigation that his motive was to burn the house down in order to collect insurance money and build a new house.
He told investigators that he started the fire because he was living paycheck to paycheck and did not have any extra money to fix up or remodel the Martelle house.
He said he purchased a 1968 Chevy pickup truck and a boat with the insurance proceeds. He used the insurance proceeds to pay some of Galloway’s car payments and other bills.
Prior to the fire, Plower had moved out of the Martelle residence and moved to Olin with his girlfriend Beth Galloway. Plower collected insurance money after the fire occurred, a total of $150,000 from Nationwide Insurance Company.
Investigators seized $5,320 of the insurance proceeds from a firearm case located in the closet of the master bedroom after Investigator Jared Kirby executed a search warrant at Galloway’s residence in Olin.
The affidavit states that Plower told investigators that Galloway told him she tried to start a fire in the bathroom, but she couldn’t get it going. Plower said Galloway went to the Martelle house because she was frustrated with the house just like he was.
An Olin city clerk who had been friends with Galloway for eight or nine years was involved and knew about it. She said during the investigation that Galloway brought her a small bag of cash containing $10,000. Galloway asked her to hold the money because they did not want law enforcement to seize the money as part of the investigation. The clerk also stated that Galloway told her that Plower had set the fire.
According to the affidavit, Galloway used $2,000 of the insurance proceeds to help her father pay trailer payments, an additional $4,000 towards her attorney for her child custody case, and money to pay her bills and help Plower’s mother and daughter.
In an interview last summer with Martelle Fire Chief Tapken, he said he had suspicions the day of the fire, but they weren’t directed at Plower. Tapken was suspicious because the house, which Plower abandoned to move to Olin, was a bit of an eyesore and Plower might have had enemies.
“He was there that morning. He seemed like any normal person would be if their house was on fire,” Tapken said. “He did a very good job acting … Working with the guy all them years, you wouldn’t suspect it. It was odd. It really was.”
The fire was dangerous. Two firefighters were about to enter the front door when they noticed a weakened floor at the last moment, according to Tapken.
“He’s known a lot of us firemen since we were kids. And that’s what bothered us the most is that he was willing to put our lives on the line for money,” Tapken said.
Plower’s 13-year sentence is to be followed by three years of supervised released, and Plower was ordered to pay $152,874 to the insurance company. There is no parole in the federal system.
Former Iowa deputy sentenced to 13 years for burning down house to collect insurance cash
CEDAR RAPIDS – A former deputy sheriff and volunteer firefighter who submitted a fraudulent insurance claim after deliberately setting fire to his vacant home was sentenced today to 13 years in federal prison.
James Marvin Plower, age 50, from Olin, Iowa, received the prison term after a February 20, 2015, guilty plea to one count of mail fraud and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.
At his guilty plea hearing, Plower admitted that, between about July 2013 and August 2014, he made up a scheme to defraud his insurance company. Plower admitted that, as part of the scheme, he deliberately set fire to his vacant home in Martelle, Iowa, and then submitted an insurance claim in which he falsely claimed the fire was accidental.
Plower was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade. Plower was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment to be followed by 3 years’ supervised release. He was ordered to make $152,874.58 in restitution to the victim insurance company. There is no parole in the federal system.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Peter Deegan and was investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division, and the Jones County Sheriff’s Department.
Plower was released on the bond previously set and is to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on a date yet to be set.