An Adair County woman pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday for her part in a scheme to collect insurance by burning a house in 2011, a fire that resulted in the death of firefighter Charles Sparks.
Brandi Pritchard, 41, pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property by fire and mail fraud before Judge Greg N. Stivers in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green Tuesday.
Pritchard and Steve Allen (Boo) Pritchard faced charges after the house they rented was destroyed by fire on June 30, 2011. Local firefighter Charles Sparks died on July 8, 2011 after suffering a heart attack while fighting the blaze.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser summarized the case against Brandi Pritchard during the hearing Tuesday. Weiser said Brandi purchased a $50,000 renter’s insurance policy. When Steve Pritchard learned about it he told Brandi they could make money by setting the house on fire. Steve Pritchard told Brandi he had started fires to collect insurance before, Weiser told the court.
On June 29, 2011, Steve Pritchard sent Brandi’s children and a pet dog to spend the night at a family member’s house then set fire to the house. He then drove Brandi to her workplace in Somerset, Weiser said.
She later submitted a claim for insurance and the two of them made a list that included items they did not own, Weiser said.
While Brandi Pritchard pleaded guilty to the two charges, a portion of the indictment has been sealed. In addition, a supplement to the plea agreement was sealed Tuesday.
As part of the plea agreement discussed during court, Brandi Pritchard agreed to restitution to Grange Insurance of $50,000, owed jointly with Steve Pritchard. Restitution will be paid on the date of sentencing.
The U.S. attorney’s office agreed to recommend imprisonment at the lowest end of a range used by federal courts based on the crime committed and the defendant’s past history. The U.S. attorney also agrees to recommend a reduction in the recommended range if the defendant does not violate conditions of bond or commit future crimes.
The charges Pritchard pleaded guilty to carry a combined minimum term of seven years or a maximum of life in prison, a combined maximum fine of $500,000 and a maximum five-year term of supervised release. She can ask the judge to agree to a sentence below the guidelines. She cannot withdraw her plea if she is not satisfied with the judge’s sentencing.
While a portion of the plea agreement is sealed, it became clear that Brandi Pritchard is expected to testify when Steve Pritchard goes to trial.
The judge suggested a July date for Brandi’s sentencing hearing and Weiser asked that a later date be set because she is expected to testify Aug. 15, which is when Steve Pritchard is set for a jury trial. Brandi’s attorney, Wes Milliken, also stated that his client had been cooperative with the U.S. attorney and would continue to do so.
Brandi Pritchard’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12.
By Sharon Burton