Monday, April 13, 2015
Adjuster: Home insurer AIG trying to drop Risoldis since
Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015
An AIG insurance adjuster testified the company tried to drop the Risoldi family as clients ever since 2009, following the first of what would be three fires at the family’s Buckingham estate.
James O’Keefe told a Bucks County District Court judge Monday that the insurer paid out $1.8 million for the first fire, more than $8 million in 2010 for the second and $10 million in 2013 for the third. Each time, the company canceled the policy, he said. And each time, defendant Claire Risoldi complained to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, which sided with the family, O’Keefe added.
The three fires occurred at Clairemont, the Georgian-style mansion that was home to Risoldi, 67, her late husband Tom French, Claire’s son Carl A. Risoldi, 43, his wife, Sheila, 44, and their two children. Carl A. Risoldi owns the property with his sister, attorney Carla V. Risoldi, of Solebury. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has charged the Risoldis and two co-defendants with orchestrating a more than $20 million insurance fraud related to the fires.
O’Keefe, testifying on the fifth day of the defendants’ preliminary hearing, said he became involved in the Risoldis’ 2013 fire damage claim after Claire Risoldi had disagreements with Anthony Amoroso, an AIG adjuster who investigated the earlier fires and who testified last week. The disagreements included Claire Risoldi’s lack of documentation with the fire claims, O’Keefe said.
“Claire told me Anthony was never being fair with her,” O’Keefe said before before the hearing recessed for the day.
Testimony before District Judge C. Robert Roth, of Quakertown, is expected to conclude Tuesday and a decision is expected about whether part — or all — of the prosecution’s case will move forward for a trial in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.
The four Risoldis, private investigator Mark Goldman, 54, of Wayne, and fabric vendor Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, are charged with filing false insurance claims and criminal conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. French was among the accused, but he committed suicide Feb. 5 and left notes purportedly written by him that maintained his innocence.
None of the defendants are charged with arson; Buckingham’s fire marshal ruled the cause of each fire “undetermined.”
The fire marshal, James Kettler, testified Monday to finding six similarities between the 2010 and 2013 fires at the mansion: time of day (around lunchtime); location (attic dormers); method of notifying fire department (alarm system); no one home at the time the fire was reported; Claire Risoldi was the last person seen leaving the house; and “multiple” cases of aerosol hairspray found in the house, near where the fire started.
In addition, Kettler testified that he saw French inside a second floor bedroom before the 2013 fire was out, and ordered him out of the house. The fire marshal later learned from a fire chief that Carl A. Risoldi was also inside the house before the fire was out.
None of the Risoldis or French asked to enter the building while firefighters were fighting the blaze, Kettler added. And no one from the family mentioned anything about missing jewelry, either, he said.
The first time Kettler said he heard anything about missing jewelry was about five weeks after the 2013 fire, when a Buckingham supervisor noticed a flier alleging a jewelry theft. When Kettler checked the phone number on the flier, he said it belonged to Goldman.
“I was very surprised. Shocked,” Kettler testified. “I had not heard about any type of jewelry theft up to that point.”
Following the 2013 fire, the Risoldi family falsely accused volunteer firefighters of stealing jewelry, according to the grand jury and several firefighters who testified last week.
The day after that fire, Kettler said that he spoke with Carl A. Risoldi about possible causes, and asked if his mother, Claire, could possibly be involved.
“He was very upset and emphatically said he didn’t think she was involved in the fire,” Kettler said, describing Carl’s anger level as going from a “five to a 12” after he had asked if Claire could be involved.
Carl Risoldi soon calmed down after Kettler said he was doing his job as a fire investigator, adding, “it was a difficult question but we needed to know.”
After filing his 2013 fire investigation report, Claire Risoldi asked him to change the findings, claiming his report was the only one that said the cause was “undetermined” and “he had to change it,” Kettler testified.
Several days after that fire, Kettler added that Claire Risoldi confronted him “yelling and screaming” and vowing to use “all her $80 million to get him fired,” Kettler said. He said Claire Risoldi got within inches of his face during the confrontation, and Carl Risoldi stepped between the two in an attempt to calm his mother.
Eventually she calmed down, and apologized and hugged Kettler, he said, adding that Carl Risoldi never threatened him or gave him a hard time about doing his fire investigation.
On cross-examination, Kettler testified that other items were also stored in the attic, besides the cases of hairspray, but they were too damaged to identify. He also testified that he did not ask anyone in 2010 or 2013 how long the cases of hairspray were stored in the attic.
Defense attorney Jud Aaron, who represents Claire Risoldi, posed several questions to Kettler about whether he agreed that Claire Risoldi wears hairspray almost every day.
“I’m not a hair stylist,” Kettler replied. “I’m a fire marshal. I don’t know hair care products.”
Also Monday, two soot-stained canvas bags containing empty jewelry boxes were emptied onto a courtroom table.
State Attorney General Special Agent Louis Gomez testified that the boxes, which contained jewelry when they were found, were discovered when authorities executed search warrants in Claire Risoldi’s rented Danielle Drive home in Buckingham in November 2014. Gomez recalls the day he went to retrieve the items.
“She (Claire) said it was a political ploy and she would sue every single person in her residence at that time,” Gomez testified.
None of the jewelry from boxes was reported stolen, Gomez testified, a point the defense emphasized.