Three grand jury defendants bound over for trial

Monday, August 27, 2007

A judge on Friday bound over for trial three of the five defendants charged with alleged crimes relating to the downtown fire over two years ago.

Fort Scott residents Greg Kuplen, Don Russell and Tim Allison at the Bourbon County Courthouse were bound over for trial on their respective charges.

Charles Parsons has not been bound over because Sixth Judicial Judge Richard Smith declined to rule just yet on whether to bind him over. Smith said he will make a decision in the next 10 days.

Only Parsons and Kuplen decided not to waive their right to preliminary hearing. Russell and Allison decided to waive that right.

The Kansas Attorney General's Office charged Parsons, Allison and Cindy Moyers in March with one count of felony fraudulent insurance act. Kuplen and Russell were charged with one count of felony presenting a false claim.

Moyers entered into a pretrial diversion agreement with prosecutors. She was charged with making false information. The agreement ends legal proceedings for Moyers without an admission of guilt. It was made prior to Friday.

Russell and Moyers were not in court on Friday.

The charges stemmed from indictments issued by a grand jury investigation last year into allegations of crimes by Fort Scott city commissioners and staff. The jury was formed after a petition received enough signatures to call for the grand jury investigation.

Prosecutors claim Parsons did not have an insurance policy in place at his downtown building at 113 S. Main St. during the time of the fire on March 11, 2005. They allege that Parsons deceived Farmer's Alliance Insurance by filling out a check the day of the fire that was back dated for March 10.

Prosecutors said it was an attempt to lead the insurance company into making it look like a policy was in place at the time of the fire to cover the subsequent fire loss when there was no policy in place. They said Parsons then obtained money from the insurance company to cover fire damage losses on the building. That constitutes insurance fraud, Deputy Attorney General Rick Guinn said.

Glen Hagerman, an investigator for Farmer's Insurance, testified that Parsons told him in a taped phone conversation that the check was written on March 10 but then changed his story and told Hagerman that he wrote the check on March 11.

Pat Bishop, Parsons' lawyer, said his client had nothing to do with backdating the check. He said Allison dated the check and told Parsons about it several weeks later. Therefore, Parsons didn't violate the law by simply filling out the rest of the check and delivering it to Farmer's Insurance the day of the fire.

"Charles should not be responsible for what a third party did," Bishop said.

Smith said it's his first time in dealing with this particular statute and he'll review evidence and arguments presented and make a decision.

Prosecutors said Kuplen received $11,000 from a Kansas Department of Commerce grant to fix damages to a building at 12 S. Main St. that he owned and where he operated a barbecue restaurant.

An investigator for the Kansas State Fire Marshal's office testified that no fire damage occurred to the building, Guinn said.

Had grant administrators known there were no damages, they "never would've provided those monies," Guinn said.

Instead, most of the money went to fix water damage stemming from a broken ice machine in the restaurant, Guinn said.

"There was a lot of leakage underneath the floor of the restaurant, and the damage from the ice machine actually predated the fire."

Kuplen was working on fixing the damages before the fire actually happened, according to testimony. Guinn said Kuplen was submitting claims for repairs stemming from the ice machine, not fire damage.

Robert Tomassi, Kuplen's attorney, was out of the office Monday morning and could not be reached for comment.

Russell, who served as the city of Fort Scott's economic development director at the time of the fire, was responsible for overseeing the grant application process.

The next court appearance for Russell, Kuplen and Allison is formal arraignment.