Betty said she and Mike, with the occasional help of friends, had stowed many items in the basement. (Some of those friends later corroborated her statement. Judy Moore, a fellow school volunteer with Betty, told another State Farm investigator that she had seen a big-screen TV in the living room and unopened boxes in each of the girls' rooms that supposedly held the TV/DVD/VCR units.)

Fire investigator Sesniak already had told Melissa Bishop that very few remnants of personal property had emerged from the rubble, which led him (and Detective McCarthy) to conclude that the house had been practically empty.

But Bishop didn't confront the Johnsons about that.

Betty and Mike Johnson at the site of what was supposed to be their dream home.
Jamie Peachey
Betty and Mike Johnson at the site of what was supposed to be their dream home.
The December 2003 fire destroyed the new
home of Peoria residents Betty and Mike
Johnson.
The December 2003 fire destroyed the new home of Peoria residents Betty and Mike Johnson.

Instead, the State Farm investigator asked them, "Did you start the fire?"

"No."

"Did you have anyone else start the fire?"

"No."

In order, the Johnsons listed three people whom they suspected of arson — neighbor Pat Bolley, concrete man Robert Brewster, and an ex-boyfriend of their oldest daughter.

Betty Johnson conceded that she had not paid Brewster about $10,000 of their bill from him, because he had allegedly cost them money and time by making critical construction errors.

Melissa Bishop never did raise the issue of the BankOne letters, later telling the Johnsons' attorney that the peculiar letters didn't matter in the handling of the insurance claim.

State Farm's attorneys would disagree, arguing that the letters demonstrated that Betty Johnson was fully capable of committing fraud and exaggerated the extent of what personal property had burned up in the fire.

Mike Johnson told Bishop that he hoped everything would soon be resolved.

"They always say, 'You're in good hands,'" he told the State Farm investigator.

"That's Allstate," she corrected him. "We're the 'good neighbors.'"


State Farm investigators didn't believe Betty Johnson's claim of having a significant amount of personal property at her burned-down house.

Could they have been right?

Sure, and there still was a way, after the Johnsons' March 2004 interview with Melissa Bishop, to confirm their suspicions.

Though months had passed, the burned-up rubble still was piled up in the Johnsons' yard. An analysis of it by State Farm after the March 2004 interview would have seemed the obvious next move.

Instead, in mid-April 2004, State Farm hired a firm to clear the debris off the Johnsons' property and cart it to the dump.

Later, investigator Bishop conceded that "the fire debris may have been evidence of what the contents in the home were before the house burned [and State Farm should have] had somebody sift through every single square inch of that property and look specifically to try to catalog items."

The latter never happened.

That month, unknown to the Johnsons or to State Farm, the unsolved arson case was about to break wide open, with a wild turn no one could have predicted.


On April 14, 2004, a Peoria police detective reported to his peers at the Sheriff's Office that a woman had called him with an intriguing tale.

She said her boyfriend was in jail and wanted to talk to the cops about a fire in Peoria some months earlier.

The detective already had met with the inmate, Brian Cappe, and learned this: Three Phoenix firefighters — Darryl Lanning, Joe Avey, and Chris Bishop — allegedly set a fire at a big home about a week before the previous Christmas.

A week later, sheriff's detectives Dougherty and McCarthy videotaped their own interview with Cappe.

He said he knew Darryl Lanning and was repairing the firefighter's car on a weekend night shortly before Christmas. Lanning had asked if he could borrow Cappe's police scanner, and the pair met at a gas station in west Phoenix. Cappe said Lanning grabbed a gas can out of a car trunk, and Cappe asked him what was up.

"Dirty deeds," he said Lanning replied.

Lanning asked Cappe if he wanted to make some extra money that night, but Cappe had other plans. Before leaving, he filled up another gas can and introduced Cappe to another firefighter, Chris Bishop.

The next morning around sunrise, Cappe said, Lanning, Bishop, and another firefighter, Joe Avey, showed up unexpectedly at his home.

Cappe said the three were high on meth and talkative. He said he learned that morning and in subsequent conversations with Lanning that they had torched a house for a subcontractor who hadn't been paid for his work there.

He thought the subcontractor was a Glendale firefighter by the name of Bannister, who also worked construction on the side.

Cappe told the detectives he also was aware that Avey and Lanning had teamed up on insurance and stolen-property scams involving cars, trailers, and other high-dollar items.

In a subsequent interview, Cappe told the detectives he had scribbled down information about those involved in the fire before he was jailed for violating probation for theft and forgery.

Cappe's girlfriend found the handwritten note and got it to authorities.

It turns out that "Bannister" actually was "Brewster," and "Glendale" was "Peoria," but Cappe's account was bearing up.

On May 17, 2004, sheriff's deputies served a search warrant at Darryl Lanning's home, where they recovered what they suspected was stolen property.

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204 comments
Connie Hudison
Connie Hudison

My family feels your pain more than you know. We are going through a very similar situation now, involving our neighbors. We have no protection from law enforcement or the State Fire Department Agency. They have become as big a problem as our neighbor's to the point that we are in fear of living in our home for the past 3 years, yet still paying a mortgage. Our home was also underinsured with no living expenses on our policy. This is due to previous arsons on our property. Law enforcement agencies are condoning arson's in our neighborhood for the past 15 years. Now, how could you not catch an arsonist after 15 years?!!!! They admitted to my family and friends they know who the perpetrator's are but refuse to do anything about them. What they did do was arrest the homeowner for Arson/Insurance Fruad!! My family has incurred extensive monetary loss, emotional stress, our character is defamed and slandered. Our name has a "black mark" all over it according the the law. The criminal charges were eventually dropped. We than called the States Attorney's office asking to schedule an appointment to talk with them and show them evidence of who the arsonist is. We were denied an appointment. We have no option now but to pursue lawsuit ourselves. This "BLACK MARK" on our families credibility cleared. JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED....NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Puzzled
Puzzled

Wow! Quite a stumbling block State Farm has built themselves on. When the Johnson's win their case State Farm is going to fall really hard as no one will have faith in their already lost integrity.

tr7fan
tr7fan

i hope these people finally got ot rebuild their home and are enjoying it. they sure deserve it after all the hassle ~

tr7fan
tr7fan

they screwed my daughter around for about a year over repairs to her car after being hit by someone insured by them. they allegedly "lost" the paperwork my daughter had sent in 3 times but i got in an ornery mood one day and got the name and number of the one handling the claim and "mysteriously" when my daughter called them "they didnt need the paperwork anymore theyd been jerkin her around for a year over 2000 whats so wierd is i called my agent and she helped me get the thing striaghtened out ive dealt with them before theyre jerks. this guy backed up into my 76 triumph tr7 with a pick up and when i demanded that the front bumper cover be replaced this jack**f body shop guy called em and toldem it should be totaled . so i had a go round with there agent and before it was done i got the 700 it cost to fix it and kept the car. got it fixed and went back to the body shop guy who tried to screw me to show em what nice job ANOTHER body shop did fixing it.

Beech
Beech

This family is my relation and I know that what they have gone thru can not be replaced by money this is a very loving family with 5 daughters who are going to remember what State Farm did to their parents The whole thing is upsetting firefighters who are crooks state farm being bullys and knowing what happened all the time. But God takes care of his children and he will take care of this family.I love you Cuz and do not ever let them beat you down So [roud of you for standing tall I know it has been a long hard 7 yearsYour Cuz Mark

Azdezyr4u
Azdezyr4u

I used to work for Snake Farm Insurance. One day back in 1999 i simply had enough of their BS and walked out and went to work for USAA insurance. I have never looked back. If you want professional insurance choose the best...USAA.

critical
critical

The home was 'underinsured by a company agent'? These people were building their entire house on their own and did not know a proper replacement cost? They tried to skimp on insurance and lost the gamble. Suing for more money raises the rates for everybody. Thanks for that.

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AZruffrider
AZruffrider

I've never been a consumer that is swayed by celebrities to go with one company or another, I'm not one that says well since Tiger Woods had a moral judgement failure and is tied to Nike I will not buy their product, I really could care less what celebrities do and in no shape or form is their behavior tied to the companies reputation. Where I do pay attention is when a giant of a company like State Farm goes after their customers like in this situation. I have been with State Farm for over 10+ yrs and let me tell you reading this story is really making me consider pulling ALL my business from the company. I hope that it was just a few rogue employees and NOT an indication of how the company treats their customers, because afterall its because of those customers that they are in business.

Swift2
Swift2

In answer to the letters. It was a letter typed by Lilian from Bank one. All the letter was was an accounting letter. Amount paid, date, contractor name etc.. She set it up in Mrs. Johnson computer while at her home talking bank investments. She told Mrs. Johnson she should always send that letter with her payment to the contractors. Beings the checks were coming from Bank One, Mrs. Johnson didn't see any sort of fraud being done, after all it was her banker telling her to do this. She was even nice enough to leave letter head with her. When Mrs. Johnson got a call that she was being accused of bank fraud, she called Lilian, only to find she doesn't exist. And the number on her business card was a non working number. Obviously this all got cleared up or she would of been charged with bank fraud. The letter was in no way of any harm to the bank itself. They filed no charges. If you can't smell "frame"...then you need your nostrils checked.

LIKE A GOOD NEIGHBOR............

Svx
Svx

Swift2, Don't get too upset about what is being posted here. Many of these posts are from other firefighters and policemen that are in the same side business as the ones just convicted. This is their way of providing cover for their pals. What's scary is these are the people that we are paying with our taxes to protect us.

Svx
Svx

Firefighters in the Phoenix Metro area have been doing "Contractor Sidework" for years using their credentials as firefighters to land lucrative construction jobs. They then pursuade homeowners to use other firefighter contractors for additional work. Most of them don't have the experience background to get a licence from the Registrar of Contractors but that doesn't stop them because the Registrar doesn't check their experience records. This story is just the tip of the iceberg on what has been going on in Phoenix Metro for years in regards to Firefighters operating construction companies on the side. Owner/Builders BEWARE if a contractor shows up at your doorstep with a Firefighters Sticker on their window or a Firefighter Plate on their vehicle you would be well advised to look to professional contractors that do it on a full time basis.

Swift2
Swift2

HERE LET ME HELP YOU WITH THE HARD ONES:

Court and other records show that none of the Johnsons' subcontractors, including Brewster, filed lawsuits, liens, or other public complaints against the Johnsons. TOP OF PAGE 5 PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

K9cop918
K9cop918

I want to hear more about these so called fraudulent letters. The ones from BankOne. Ya, these Firefighters took steps that ruined a families dreams, but I think this story has so many twists and turns that it could be a book and if written with certain words, could make either side look bad.

What if these guys were not Firefighters, would it have gotten the same attention? What if they hired a contractor who wasn't a firefighter, would this have even made the media? Probably not. We as Americans hold Firefighters to a higher standard, of which we should, but it plays a huge roll in this story.

Did she actually give letters to this Brewster guy that were allegedly from BankOne? Apparently she did as she addressed the fact of some woman claiming to be from BankOne and wanting her to invest in something. If she did this, than yes, that is wrong and fraudulent. Does it rise to the level of a serious crime or anything close to the level of having their home burnt? No, but it would be morally wrong. This is why I would have liked to hear more about it.

Also, I think we should hear more about any lawsuits filed by Brewster against the family, if there were any, in order to claim his due monies. If he did file some sort of suit, and lost, why? This would go a long way with explaining the work he did and if it was up to par or if he had any money due to him.

Of course I am a very detail orientated person and always want to hear all the story and read all the evidence and reports and examine all the theories, suggestions, facts and use that to come to my own opinion. I also understand how doing that in this situation (for the purpose of a New Times story) would make the article way to long to read for a publication like this. That being said, I enjoyed it but it did leave me with a lot of unanswered questions. I do agree that State farm committed some forms of bad faith, but don't blame them for their initial concerns.

Swift2
Swift2

The majority think the Johnson's are corrupt? And in which way are they corrupt? What did they do? Oh and please don't be ignorant as the others by saying "they didn't pay the contractors", if you do, you must go back and read the story again, you forgot a page.

As for the "swift2" must be a family member..guess again. Just like your "guessing" comment below, \ I am NOT a family member. I am a very long time family friend. I have known this family for years, I know their Character. And I have every right to comment on ANY negative comments attacking my very close friends or comment on any possitive. If you read closely there is a "reply" tab just for that purpose. If YOU have a problem with me remarking about negative comments such as yours, then don't post, but don't expect me to not defend myself and my comments or replys. I have not been foul, but I have been defensive and have every right with stupidity, that's why they have a reply tab :) Isn't freedom of speech a wonderful thing :)

Nanutah
Nanutah

I have been close friend with the Johnson's since 1987. Close neighbors for 10 of those years. I have always known them to be honest HARD working people. They run their own business, being self employed. They don't and haven't asked for handout during this whole ordeal, have never asked any of their friends for any financial help. This isn't over yet, and even though from the article it seems like they have gotten some monies, they had to catch up on every day living because of the fire and the flood. Daily living, attorney fees, and major expenses from their expert witnesses. I know that the last 7 years have been pure HELL for the Johnson's. Having your name and integrity dragged through the mud. THEY are the victims here. Having your home destroyed just days before moving in/Christmas. They are lucky to have lived to tell the tell. I hope this spreads virally so that people know how State Farm really treats it's clients. I know that (swift2) is a close family friend also and NOT a member of the Johnson Family

Pearson1208
Pearson1208

That's where I work and love it there

Swift2
Swift2

You don't "chose" your price of home owners insurance. They have formulas used for figuring the right amounts of coverage. Based on sq ft. etc.. Why do you think they have adjusters? That is the job of the agent to make sure you are covered for the appropriate amounts, that's why you hire them, once the contract amount is figured the clients sign...they were never given anything to sign.... And the agent knows he underinsured that was already established. Moving along.

Amazed
Amazed

This is not the first incident I've heard of involving State Farm, but it is definitely the worst!

Swift2
Swift2

In this case, you would be shocked at the evidence regarding who is involved when it comes to state farm. You should read what former State farm employees have said about the very company they worked for in prior cases.

May I also add, (I wont say names) I know an agent that has been selling State farm for years and he even had to hire an attorney because State Farm was jerking around their very own on paying medical bills. Did they pay them, yes, after he had to go through fighting the very own people he puts the almighty dollar in the pockets of with an attorney. Sad. No, its not even sad, thats down right pathetic.

Some one posted down below a few links on State Farms "good neighbor ethics", if you get a chance you might read them.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Uh-huh,

Before there was as fire, before there was a dispute about what was destroyed in that fire, the bank and the insurance company sought out to "frame" the good family because ... why?

Rather than run around whining that anyone who disagrees with you must be a member of the police or fire departments, or worse is an idiot, you really need to take a moment to think clearly about what you are writing.

Just because she tried to scam people with the bank letter does not make her an arsonist, but apologist such as you, with your "say-anything" approach to trying to clear her just make her look worse, not better.

You make supporting her seem like the position of a weak mind, at best, and a liar, at worst.

If I had no opinion, and read your posts, I'd be opposite her pretty quick. Heck, I don't think she engaged in arson, and I'm intellectually offended by your posts.

So ask yourself, you want to make it better or worse for your beloved Mrs. Johnson?

Swift2
Swift2

Thank Svx. I appreciate your comments. Im not mad though, just frustrated at the stupidity of people.

K9cop918
K9cop918

What's the whole story on the BankOne letters? Was she convinced by someone that they were legit to send, or did she make them herself and send them hoping it would get repairs done?

Also, do they plan on rebuilding? With the money they got, and the current state of the economy, I'm sure they could rebuild. There are plenty of legit contractors that would work for way less than there old rates. Trust me, I know as I have had work done...

Swift2
Swift2

We feel like family though huh Nan :)

Swift2
Swift2

Mr. Pot,

1. Who said the bank themselves were out to "frame" them? They knew they were scammed and the Johnson to this day still bank with them. Someone portraying themselves as a bank one employee "scammed" them. Who said state farm was out to "frame" them? they just used this unfortunate situation against them in the dirtiest way they could.

2. There is a difference between whining and defending. Look both words up in the dictionary.

3. If you can't see through your rose colored glass that they were victims of bank fraud and not the ones acting as frauds, then you sir have a very weak mind "at best".

4. I could never make anything worse for "my beloved Mrs. Johnson" she has been through hell as well as her whole family in the past 7-8 yrs. A hell you have no comprehension of. A debate session (if you could call this that) is hardly harmful to the facts in black and white.

But I see you are still "whining", or are you merely defending "your" comments?

Ms. Kettle

Swift2
Swift2

Did a little checking into Mr. Kit. Your in every story bashing someone if not the writer someone that has commented. Doesn't surprise me.

Swift2
Swift2

And obviously you wish to "whine" as well or you wouldn't be responding to MY comments. A bit of the pot calling the kettle black don't you think?

You "THINK" she didn't engage in arson? lol Not even going to waste my time on that comment. You are obviously having an issue with the truth as most narrow minded people do.

How is a letter showing the amount and date of an enclosed check scamming people? Scamming them of what?

I find it interesting that YOU find them fraudulent or as you put it "scammers", when not even the bank filed or pursued Mrs. Johnson in this matter.

You would need to understand the time lines of the "dispute", "bank letter", "fire", "state farm". Again, you don't know the whole story (or do you?) and New Times threw out bits an pieces. I believe you made comments to the writer as well? Seems you have very strong issues with this story, I wonder why????? ;)

Guest
Guest

"Frustrated by the stupidity"

Hey - common ground. That's how we feel reading your shit.

K9cop918
K9cop918

Seems like everyone involved was up to some sort of fraud in some way. Of course, the ones who did the Arson were the top of the idiot list, and State Farm, although had a right to investigate, really went to far and tied up more money in lawsuits than they should have.

It wasn't a win or ethical for anyone involved. Maybe next time everyone (well State Farm won't because they are just to big) will think about their actions before the do something next time.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Let me guess - you think alligators live in the sewers ... you're just batshitcrazy, unable to come up with intelligent argument you pathetically resort to conspiracy theories.

Ciaoaztn
Ciaoaztn

Let me guess-- you are a lame ass cheating scamming fireman too aren't you? What a crock of crap --if you ask me that Bolley and Arnold guy were probably in on it too. Typical firemen--defending each other even when they know their "brother" is a scum bag or as in this case , an arsonist.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Given your post is replete with grammar errors, I think pot,kettle.black is a great way of responding to your accusation of "very weak mind, at best." Indeed, you have one tell that assures me you never graduated from college (or at least not a very good one.)

You're rude and non-persuasive. You are making things worse. The more people read your feeble efforts the more they are likely to think there must be some fire behind the smoke you're laying down.

Only a weak mind would accept the story of the mysterious banker who shows up, drops off some corporate stationary, shows how that can be used to fraudulently convey that contractors are being paid from fictitious improvement loams and then disappears into the night.

It lacks even the hint of plausibility.

It was a scam - and by harping on it all you are doing is reminding us how the Johnson's are capable of bad acts.

We all have flaws and we all make bad decisions (like you posting here) and sometimes those decisions make us susceptible to wrongful accusations.

That's the real moral here: don't scam on the small stuff because it hurts your credibility about the big stuff.

But, perhaps I do have a weak mind. After all, I don't think the Johnson's torched their own home, nor do I think they were treated fairly by the police or the insurance company.

For some bizarre reason that my weak mind cannot comprehend, you seem to want to fight over that conclusion, though it seems to mirror your own.

Don't you think it's better to keep your allies than to alienate them?

Dsfg
Dsfg

You, too, think you're crazy?

Swift2_
Swift2_

Well if that don't beat all, you and I have something in common. :)

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Feeling hyperbolic this morning, are you?

But point well taken - I don't suffer fools well, as you are now experiencing.

Kelly
Kelly

All I see is some rude, ignorant jerk who claims to be a friend of the family writing a bunch of lies. If you're cool with that, then, hey, give her all the support you can.

I like it when liars are shot down, so I'm cool with this biatch getting the pimp hand.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Big words? Only if you didn't made it past sixth grade.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Read above - I don't suffer fools well. Swift2 is either a fool or a liar, I'm just trying to determine which.

Ruckusontheloose
Ruckusontheloose

Kit, the only thing I see you doing in here is bashing some friend of the family. Stick to the story line. Whether Swift2 is right or wrong who cares. No fire fighter has the right to burn down a families home, I don't care what they did. And you have done nothing but make yourself look like a pompous asshole with all your big words. Your the last person in the blogging that should be giving anyone advise.

Amazed
Amazed

You know what is just crazy? You're asking Swift2 to stop commenting, but yet you just blaze on trying to engage further in a debate. Clearly, you don't know the parties involved personally... Swift2 is just defending someone they care about. What's your excuse?

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

"Under our signature" is a common business expression for "send it out as if it came from us and it will have our full authority and weight."

It does not literally mean "sign my name."

You don't know something so basic, but you do know all the intricacies of the law of fraud and arson? Really? You want us to trust your analysis of the larger issues when you can't even get the small ones right?

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Talk about weak minds - someone disagrees with you so they must be part of a larger conspiracy. Yea, I'm the one that wrote the Johnsons were victims of arson, who thinks Brewster should have used the courts if he felt he was shorted and who expressed delight that the meth-heads who actually did the torching (for reasons unknown or unproven) were convicted.

So, then, what side am I on?

Before you go all tin-foil head on everyone, do you even bother to think it just may be an honest disagreement based on the limited facts presented in somewhat sloppily written article?

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

No one is defending the firefighters, so there is no one to castigate for lapses in logic or cogent thought.

Your naked declarations that this kind of fraud happen all the time stands in stark contrast to what I know to be true as a lawyer.

This is another example of how you are hurting the cause - when you just make shit up that thinks sounds persuasive, it just makes you sound like someone who will lie or say anything to get out of a jam - even one as petty as an Internet discussion.

If you'll lie here, where else will you lie and what else have you lied about in other posts?

Swift2
Swift2

While your in the dictionary, look up hard head.

The bank employees that know the Johnsons were very kind to them. They see this sort of "fraud" all the time. Johnson's are hardly the first family this has happen too. But you wouldn't know that unless you had all the facts Mr. Kit. The bank finds the Johnson's victims of fraud not the other way around. THAT is why it was never "legally" prosecuted.

You spend more time attacking the Johnson for a letter and myself for defending them on stupidity such as yours, than you do fire fighters burning down a home. Or an Insurance co.'s bad faith and wrong doings. Your childish like ways of getting upset at the Johnson's over what a friend says shows your character as well. That is simply a case of narrow mindedness.

Swift2
Swift2

You just proved to me everything I suspected. How you know things that were not even in this story is enough to tell me everything about yourself. Look at the letter again, there is no signature.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Two wrongs make a right? I'm not here to defend Brewster. As I wrote, he should have gone to the courts if he felt he was wronged.

Only a fool or a liar would try to rehabilitate the tarnished reputation of one scammer by point fingers at another.

You're just making it worse.

Kit Carson
Kit Carson

Some advice for Swift2: When you find yourself in a ditch, quit digging.

My post directly answered yours - I find it unfuckingbelievable that anyone with an IQ over 70 would claim that the Bank Letter was a frame job IN ADVANCE of the fire.

If the Johnson's are as nice and as smart as you claim, then they had to know a bank doesn't just show up with letterhead and say "Here, have some, send it out under our signature."

Your claim is incredulous.

Yes, I don't think she is an arsonist. That's the only side I logically can take, as you note, I don't have all the facts. Because you're so full of hate and bile you take exception even with those who agree with you.

The word I used was scam - and that is exactly what she tried to do. It may not have been prosecuted as an illegal scam, but it certainly was a scam. Let's go to the dictionary:

SCAM: fraud or confidence trick.

The letters were fraudulent. Period. They did not originate with from the Bank. She used those fraudulent letters in the course of her business negotiations. She is a scammer - just not likely one that is also an arsonist.

With every post you hurt the Johnson's case. As someone who thinks they were treated very poorly, and who is happy the meth heads who confessed got convicted, I wish you would stop because you're making me wonder about them - after all, what does it say about them that they have friends like you?

Swift2
Swift2

And don't forget, with documentation of PROOF that Brewster was paid for his shotty work, why didn't he pay his fellow co workers (fire fighters) with any of that money instead of "lieing" to them that he never got a dime? And the Johnson's are scammers? ok.

 
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