A six-member jury deliberated three hours Thursday before finding former Donaldsonville Fire Chief Kirk P. Landry guilty of insurance fraud. It’s a blow but it’s a real blow and wakeup call for fire chiefs all over. It puts them all on notice that they better be careful about what they submit, Landry said just before driving away from the Ascension Parish Courthouse in Gonzales after his three-day trial.
Landry, 49 and retired, was referring to the process of submitting department reports from structure fires that are later given to the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana for audits to gain insurance ratings.
Landry was arrested in 2004 and accused by state prosecutors of altering fire reports to the insurance association to get a lower and better fire insurance rating for Donaldsonville.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Street, the lead prosecutor on the case, told the jury Landry doubled his manpower on the fire reports he changed and added firetrucks that were not at the scene of the fires.
“We are pleased that the jury agreed with us. The evidence was very strong,” Street said after the trial.
Landry’s defense attorneys, Karl Koch and Vincent Sotile Jr., argued that Landry had no intent to defraud anybody and that he only followed the advice of Thomas J. Cassisa, a Fire Department rating consultant hired by the city of Donaldsonville in 2000 to assist the city in getting a lower and better fire rating.
Insurance companies base their premiums for residents and businesses on the fire ratings issued by the association. The scale is from 1 to 10 with 1 being the best fire protection a department can have. The lower the rating, the lower the cost of the insurance premiums.
Cassisa, who had worked for the insurance association for 11 years, was the key defense witness Thursday. He testified it was common practice back in 2000 for fire chiefs to change fire records to accurately reflect personnel and firetrucks dispatched or originally called to a fire, not just crews and trucks that made it to the scene.
Landry’s defense asserted Cassisa told the defendant he could gain credit for trucks and fire crew members dispatched to the scenes of fires even if those trucks and people were canceled later after it was determined that the fire was not serious and those extra trucks and people were not needed.
Koch introduced Cassisa’s written recommendations to Landry which stated Landry should modify records to show who was originally dispatched to a structure fire even if the trucks and fire crews were canceled later.
Street dismissed Landry’s modifications on the records as lies.
Koch argued the rules did not state Landry couldn’t gain credit for firetrucks and fire crews dispatched but later canceled.
Landry will be sentenced at a later date by District Judge Ralph Tureau.
The maximum penalty for insurance fraud is five years in prison or a $5,000 fine or both.