June 13, 2024

Illinois Man Admits to Arson in Property Insurance Scheme

An Illinois man pleaded guilty last week in federal court to setting fire to residential properties to collect insurance money.

Rufis A. Jefferson, 47, from Venice near the St. Louis area, pleaded guilty to 14 federal felony charges related to the scheme — one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud, 10 counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit arson, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Jefferson confessed to being paid by a family member to set fire to her St. Louis apartment on Dec. 31, 2022, with the intention of claiming insurance money. The relative’s insurer is estimated to have paid out more than $30,000 for the St. Louis apartment fire.

He also admitted to conspiring to burn two additional buildings in Granite City and Venice, although those incidents were thwarted with the help of an ATF confidential informant.

Evette B. Osuegbu, 61-year-old from Granite City, is also charged in the indictment for the same 14 federal crimes.

Jefferson’s sentencing is scheduled for April 25, with the charges carrying a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison per count. 

It’s not the first high-profile arson-for-hire real estate case to come to a conclusion in recent months.

A federal jury last summer convicted Arthur Aslanian, a real estate developer from La Cañada Flintridge, California, of plotting two murders for hire, as well as arson.

The decision came on July 7 from the U.S. District Court for California’s Central District after a five-day trial.

According to prosecutors, Aslanian plotted with an employee, Sesar Rivera, to hire a hitman to kill an attorney identified in court papers as M.Y. who had represented Aslanian in a bankruptcy proceeding. Aslanian refused to pay the attorney $261,000 in legal fees. M.Y. told Aslanian that he was prepared to sue if the fees were not paid.

The real estate developer also conspired to kill a person identified as S.E. in court papers. S.E. prevailed in a lawsuit in which Aslanian tried to take possession of a Brentwood home where S.E.’s parents lived.

Aslanian, who was 54 at the time of his conviction, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and use of interstate facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, as well as another count of use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire. The jury also found Aslanian guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit arson, a count of attempted arson, and another count of arson of a building used in interstate commerce.

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