Louisa M. Knight, 43, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Providence Tuesday to setting fire to her Warwick home on July 11, 2011, then fraudulently collecting nearly $42,000 in insurance payments in an arson-for-profit scheme, announced United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha.
Knight pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of use of fire to commit mail fraud. She faces up to 30 years in federal prison followed by up to eight years of supervised release and a fine of up to $500,000 when she is sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. on Aug. 1.
At a recent change-of-plea hearing, Knight admitted to the court that she intentionally set fire to a bureau in the basement of her home, which then quickly spread upward and ignited wooden joists and floorboards. The house suffered significant smoke and water damage.
Knight admitted that she had left numerous paint cans uncovered on the living room floor in an effort to make it appear that the room was to be painted. Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and little or no visibility when they entered the house, and the paint cans were knocked over and their contents spilled. Knight admitted to the court that as part of the scheme, she asked a friend to drive her to a local hardware store, and that they agreed to tell investigators they had left the house to purchase paintbrushes when the fire began.
Knight also admitted to the court, that as part of the scheme and prior to igniting the fire, she removed numerous personal items from the home, and that she sent her daughter and a friend to a nearby park with their family pets. The daughter and her friend, both of who were aware of the plan to light the house on fire, told the police and fire personnel that they had lit a candle in the basement and left it burning when they took the dogs for a walk.
Knight admitted to the court that she was in financial distress, and that she made incriminating admissions to at least five individuals that she would remedy her financial situation by setting fire to her house and cause an insurance claim to be filed with her insurance company. Knight subsequently received two settlement payments totaling $41,957.46.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Ferland is prosecuting the case.
The matter was investigated by the FBI; Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation; Rhode Island State Police; and Warwick Fire Department.