Mother, son plead guilty to arson, insurance fraud

Published 1:00 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

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After jury selection and minutes before their trial was set to begin last week, mother and son co-defendants Patricia Henderson Bulger, 72, and Jimmy Lee Bulger, 49, pleaded guilty to second degree arson and first degree insurance fraud before Presiding Circuit Judge Lex Short.

Jimmy Lee Bulger

The charges originated after the Bulgers’ home on County Road 32 burned in November 2018. None of the home’s occupants were present when the fire was discovered, although Patricia Bulger arrived shortly after first responders did. At that time, she told first responders, “It was an accident. They left something on the stove.”

On scene, a neighbor recalled that, during the previous summer, Jimmy Bulger said his mother was planning to sell the house and move into a smaller home. Based on Mrs. Bulger’s comments to first responders and the neighbor’s recollection of the conversation with Jimmy, officers thought there was something suspicious about the fire scene and contacted the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

An investigation conducted by Deputy Fire Marshals Jeff Lowery and Wesley Snodgrass revealed two separate fires had begun in the kitchen of the home. The smaller fire was near the area of the stove, and a second, more successful fire, had originated on the floor near a china cabinet against a kitchen wall. It was determined that the cause of the fire was human interference and that an incendiary substance was used to set the fire. A confidential informant told Covington County Sheriff’s Investigators that Patricia Bulger and Jimmy Bulger had planned the fire for the purpose of filing a claim on the home’s insurance policy and that the informant had assisted Jimmy Bulger in starting the fire.

Investigators Ken Harris and Joey Cato fitted the informant with a recording device, who recorded conversations with Patricia Bulger. According to the District Attorney’s Office, in the conversations, Mrs. Bulger said that she had “told Jimmy not to start the fire on an outside wall, but to start it on this inner wall, where the refrigerator and stove and all is. It would last longer without anybody knowing it was there.”

She also repeatedly told the informant that they all needed to “keep everything consistent” when speaking to law enforcement.

Patricia Bulger and Jimmy Bulger later filed a claim on the home’s insurance policy, receiving more than $55,000 in insurance benefits.

Jimmy Bulger and Patricia Bulger each pleaded guilty to second degree arson and first degree insurance fraud.

Jimmy Bulger was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for each conviction, under the Habitual Felony Offender Act.

Patricia Bulger was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for each conviction.

Judge Short also ordered both to pay restitution to State Farm Insurance Company for the money that had been paid on the claim.

After the mother and son entered their guilty pleas, District Attorney Walt Merrell, who handled the case from its inception said, “The Bulgers have thought for some time now that they were getting away with this. Jeff and Wesley did a great job applying their fire and law enforcement knowledge to this investigation. The Bulgers thought the consequence of setting those fires would be $55,000 in insurance money. Instead, now they both have felony convictions and have to pay all that money back. They didn’t get away with anything.”

Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter, who represented the State at trial, added, “The Bulgers thought burning down their home would be an easy way to rid themselves of an expensive house and make some money by collecting insurance benefits. They made sure they were safely out of the way, along with the family dog, but they showed no concern for the firefighters and law enforcement officers who responded to the fire. When they arrived, the first responders did not know the home was unoccupied and risked their own lives to both check for anyone inside and to put the fire out. The greed of the Bulgers could have had even worse consequences than it did.”

Jeter also thanked the volunteer firefighters who responded. “They are always at the ready, and we appreciate them so very much,” she said.