Fire and Flood Claims Land Business Owner in Hot WaterScandalous Schemes — By Trace America on September 29, 2011 at 9:26 AM
One PA man has had his share of bad luck when it comes to money. He also has a long and very sordid past with fires and flooding.
According to the Pocono Record, Ralph Miller, the owner of the former Pocono Playhouse, which burnt to a crisp in October of 2009, allegedly filed more than $180,000 in false flood insurance claims for another one of his properties, the Bucks County Playhouse, in 2006.
In an indictment that was filed in federal court in Philadelphia on September 1st by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Miller was charged with wire fraud and money laundering.
Before losing the Bucks County Playhouse during a sheriff’s sale, Miller had owned the 70-year-old playhouse on the banks of the Delaware River in New Hope for more than 30 years.
Then, in June of 2006, heavy rains north of Bucks County led to flooding on the Delaware River.
“We hired adjusters to do the work, I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Miller said on September 22nd. “They investigated me for two years and this is what they came up with.”
Due to the flooding, Miller filed insurance claims with Selective Insurance Company of America, which included a report that 56 different lights that were used for the playhouse were damaged. According to court records, that added up to a loss of more than $200,000.
Authorities stated that Selective paid Miller a total of $905,000 for all the damages to the playhouse, including $183,690.90 toward the cost of the damaged lighting.
However, investigators found that the lighting had not been damaged, and on his claims, Miller had at times listed some of the lighting more than once, according to court records.
Miller was released on his own recognizance, but was ordered to surrender his passport and to stay within the eastern district of Pennsylvania.
A couple of years after the flood, in Monroe County in October of 2009, a neighbor spotted a fire at the Pocono Playhouse at 1 a.m. By the time the firefighters arrived, flames had engulfed most of the main building and part of another.
At the time, the Times Herald-Record in New York reported that Miller stood to gain a $1 million payout from the blaze. They stated that Miller had increased the insurance on the building by 25% just months before the fire.
It was also reported that Miller collected payouts on three of his other buildings that were destroyed by fires, including a Bucks County warehouse, the Woodstock Playhouse in upstate New York, and the Falmouth Playhouse in Cape Cod.
The Woodstock and Falmouth fires were ruled arson, but no one was charged with setting them, and Miller –obviously– denies responsibility.
Miller was sued by an insurance company after the Falmouth fire, but they eventually agreed to pay what he said was less than half of the policy.
Miller has stated that all four fires are a coincidence.
An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed last year to the Pocono Record that the agency was still investigating the Pocono Playhouse fire, as well as the blazes that destroyed Miller’s other theaters in Woodstock, N.Y, in 1988 and Falmouth, M.A, in 1994.
After the flooding at his Bucks County playhouse in 2006, Miller said that he hoped to lead a class-action lawsuit against several New York state reservoirs, which contributed to the flooding by opening up dams to alleviate their own flooding.
Miller also filed for bankruptcy in late 2009, claiming that he was $5.8 million in debt.
According to court records, a bank that loaned him $2 million, later foreclosed on his mortgage for the theater and the property was sold in December. Miller later withdrew from bankruptcy.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed for $183,690.90 of proceeds or property from Miller.
A jury trial is scheduled to begin on November 21st.
In case that was too much information to take in at once, here’s a Timeline:
- 1984 While Miller runs the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, a fire –deemed arson– destroys a nearby building that he owns. He collects $300,000 in insurance.
- Miller buys the Falmouth Playhouse in Falmouth, Mass. for $420,000.
- Using the Falmouth Playhouse as collateral, Miller buys the Pocono Playhouse in Mountainhome, Pa, with no money down and a mortgage of $430,000.
- 1985 Miller buys the Woodstock Playhouse from Harris Gordon for $350,000.
- 1986 He closes the Woodstock Playhouse after one unsuccessful season, plus his failed attempts at selling the theater for $950,000.
- 1987 The Bucks County Industrial Development Agency deeds the Bucks County Playhouse to Miller for $1.
- 1988 Miller sells the Pocono and Bucks County Playhouses for $3.1 million –but the buyers default on the mortgage and Miller loses $20,000 per month in payments– and regains the theaters.
- At 4:30 a.m, a fire –again classified as arson– destroys the Woodstock Playhouse. Miller collects $375,000 in insurance. The family that holds the mortgage claims Miller forged Gordon’s signature on the check. Miller says he was authorized. He eventually settles with the family by deeding them the playhouse land.
- 1992 In January, Miller declares bankruptcy.
- 1994 Bankruptcy is settled, Miller must pay $4 million to creditors of $11.5 million owed.
- In February, a 4 a.m. fire –once again, classified as arson– destroys the Falmouth Playhouse. It is insured for $1,575,000.
- Miller’s insurance company, Mt. Hawley Insurance, claims Miller “intentionally caused” the fire at Falmouth Playhouse and didn’t notify them of prior fires in Woodstock and Bucks County. They demand a trial.
- 2001 Miller again files for bankruptcy with $7 million in debt and $100,000 in back taxes. He says he may sell the Pocono Playhouse to satisfy taxes.
- 2002 Miller abandons the Pocono Playhouse, when back taxes of $230,000 force a sheriff’s sale of the property.
- 2003 Miller says he will refinance mortgage to pay taxes and keep Pocono Playhouse.
- 2009 August: Miller declares bankruptcy, with $5.8 million in debt – on the day the Bucks County Playhouse is to go to public auction.
- On October 2nd: a 1 a.m. fire burns down the Pocono Playhouse. An investigation continues.
This post is authored by Trace America.