Ex-Firefighter Pleads Guilty to Mail Fraud After Torching His House
A former Casper firefighter who torched his own house two years ago to collect more than $250,000 in insurance payments pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in federal court on Friday.
The other charges against Patrick Bennett -- wire fraud, and two counts of use of fire to comment a federal crime and aiding and abetting -- will be dismissed at his sentencing scheduled for Oct. 17 before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal.
Bennett's friend and accomplice, Nicolas Counts, also pleaded guilty to the same count of mail fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 17.
According to the indictment, mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years behind bars and up to a $250,000 fine. Bennett also must forfeit any property related to the proceeds from the crimes.
If the defendants had been found guilty of the use of fire to commit a federal crime, they could have faced a minimum of 30 years behind bars.
Court documents state Bennett was treasurer of the the local firefighters union and embezzled $15,125.81 of union funds in two withdrawals within eight months of the fire. He transferred those funds to his personal checking account to pay bills.
In the meantime, Counts began removing some of Bennett's belongings including valuable family heirlooms and moving them to a mutual friend's home.
Early July 23, 2012, some of Bennett's neighbors reporting smelling gasoline before the explosion, according to court records. "The explosion was of such magnitude that the house was lifted off its foundation and the ensuing fire destroyed the house and the Toyota truck."
Within an hour of the call to respond to the fire, Counts arrived at the emergency room of the Wyoming Medical Center with severe burns on his arms, back and legs. He told investigators that he was at Bennett's house when someone had knocked him unconscious and the house was engulfed in flames when he awoke. However, the treating physician did not see any wound on his head. Counts was taken to a burn center in Greeley, Colo.
Bennett later told Casper police officers that his house appeared to have been ransacked because of the missing items.
After the fire, Bennett filed false claims with his insurance companies and obtained $250,849.49 for the losses on his house and pickup. Portions of that amount were used to pay off debts for the house and pickup, according to court records.
Casper Fire Chief Kenny King said in June that Bennett worked for the department for five years and resigned in December 2012.
Bennett and Counts remain in custody.