HALEYVILLE - Law enforcement are hoping an alleged case of insurance fraud linked to a burned house on Walnut Avenue in Haleyville and grand jury indictments against two Haleyville men, will set a precedent that these cases will not be tolerated.
Gary Wayne Vickery, 78, of Haleyville, was taken into custody by the Haleyville Police Department on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at the department’s headquarters, on two counts of first degree insurance fraud related to a wood frame house that burned on March 30, 2022, under suspicious circumstances, according to investigators. Vickery was indicted by a Cullman County grand jury on May 5, 2023, police stated.
James Leonard Jividen, Jr., 57, also of Haleyville, was arrested around the time period of May 22-24, by the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office on a Cullman County grand jury indictment of two counts of insurance fraud, as well, according to reports.
“Since the paperwork was signed in Cullman County, that’s where the whole insurance coverage claim began, so it had to go to a Cullman County grand jury,” explained Haleyville Fire Marshal Jeff Postell.
“Wherever the document is signed, that is where the crime is committed,” added Haleyville Police Chief Rodney Lewis. “(Vickery) was going out of town to get insurance, hoping not to get caught.”
The Walnut Avenue house fire proved to be quite a dangerous situation for firefighters, not only because of the fire, but the severe weather that was ongoing while they were battling the blaze, Postell pointed out.
“That night (of the fire), we were under a tornado watch. When the fire took place, we were under a severe thunderstorm warning, with high winds, heavy rain and lightning,” Postell stated.
Haleyville Fire Department had been dispatched to a structure fire at 1704 Walnut Avenue, arriving on the scene to find it fully involved, Postell recalled.
“The elements alone were a big challenge to overcome,” Postell said. “You would think the rain would help put it out, but the home had a metal roof, so rain was not a factor in the extinguishing part.”
The older wooden frame house was completely gutted by fire, with a portion of the tin roof collapsing upon the structure.
At the time of the fire, no one was at home, but the house at the time was owned by Vickery, according to police.
After the blaze was extinguished, the insurance company sent out an investigator to look into the cause of the fire, officials said.
“What brought light to it was the amount the house was insured for and the contents were insured for,” Postell pointed out.
“It threw a red flag up,” Lewis noted.
During the investigation, Postell contacted the state fire marshal’s office, which has a unit that investigates possible fraud-related incidents, authorities said. This started a joint investigation by the Haleyville Police Department, Haleyville Fire Marshal’s Office and state fire marshal’s office’s fraud unit, officials said.
Evidence gained during the investigation was compiled and presented to the Cullman County District Attorney’s Office, with the evidence also presented to the Cullman County grand jury, authorities said.
Insurance Fraud first degree is defined in Alabama Criminal Code 27-12A-3, as a Class B felony, an act where the loss or potential loss exceeds $1,000.
Police believe that Vickery was committing insurance fraud by either not telling the truth on how much the property was worth or by having individual(s) burn the property, according to Lewis.
After Vickery was arrested by Haleyville Police Nov. 29, he was transported to the Winston County Jail in Double Springs, where he was scheduled to be held until picked up by the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, police said.
“If you are going to do this, you are going to get caught,” Lewis emphasized.
“If you do anything to take money that’s rightfully not yours, it’s fraud,” Lewis pointed out. “That’s what these people are doing.
“It happens more than people getting caught doing it,” Lewis continued.
“Insurance fraud has probably gone on a lot more than any of us know,” Postell added. “It’s gone unnoticed for a long time.
“Now with the state fire marshal’s office reopening their insurance fraud division, it gives us another tool in the tool box,” Postell said. “We know what avenues we need to take if we suspect insurance fraud.
“When we find out you are committing insurance fraud, we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent,” Postell emphasized.
“When you commit this type of (insurance fraud) with fire involved, the insurance companies are losing money, but you also put the lives of the first responders involved in that call at stake,” Lewis emphasized.
*When a defendant is charged with a crime, the charge is merely an accusation until or unless proven guilty in a court of law.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.