Fires at vacant houses/arson scheme busted up

MUNCIE — Kenneth Allen, his sister, Vanessa Allen Hatcher, and others are accused of setting a series of house fires in a large-scale arson-for-insurance scheme.

More than a dozen suspects, including private insurance adjuster Douglas Haynes, have been charged with arson or using arson to commit mail fraud.

The scheme involved dozens of homes in Muncie, Anderson and Indianapolis and millions of dollars in fraudulent insurance settlements. A Nationwide Insurance investigator helped tip local and federal authorities to the scheme in an investigation that took nearly two years.

Allen, who has cocaine-dealing convictions, allegedly conspired with Haynes to defraud insurance companies by burning homes and collecting insurance settlements, according to a federal indictment. Haynes allegedly was involved with about 90 percent of claims.

Hatcher, 47, was identified as the main arsonist in the latest federal indictment this month, which alleged she set or arranged fires for more than 20 homes in Indiana and Ohio.

Muncie Police Lt. Al Williams led the local investigation, which also involved federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.

The Muncie Fire Department responded to every arson-for-insurance fire, but found most to be accidental. That was because the fires were made to look accidental by such means as putting blankets on space heaters, using candles or overloading electrical circuits.

Allen, Hatcher and others indicted by a federal grand jury are expected to cut deals with the U.S. Attorney’s office next month. Others face state charges in Delaware County courts.