Bonner County man sentenced for insurance fraud

by KEITH KINNAIRD
News editor | December 1, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A Bonner County man who pleaded guilty to insurance fraud was ordered last week to serve two years of felony probation, according to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

First District Judge Barbara Buchanan further ordered Jesse James Bennett to serve 10 days in the county's inmate labor program and perform 100 hours of community service. Bennett, 42, could be made to serve up to 30 days in jail if he falters on probation.

Bennett was also ordered to pay $5,979 in restitution to Austin Mutual Insurance Co. and $1,231 to the Idaho Department of Insurance.

Bennett was granted a withheld judgment, which means his conviction for the felony offense can be removed from his record upon successful completion of his court-ordered obligations.

An investigation revealed that in February 2018 Bennett reported to his homeowner’s insurance company that his Sandpoint home had suffered roof damage from a storm on December 21, 2017. In support of his claim, Bennett submitted photos of the purported damage. Metadata found on the photos indicated they were taken in 2008, 2013 and 2016, which preceded the policy and Bennett’s ownership of the home.

When investigators performed a Google search for photos of hail damage, they identified two images very similar to those Bennett submitted, the AG's office said. The photos contained the same metadata information, as well. Separately, a structural engineer hired by the insurance company concluded that damage to the rooftop was caused by the repeated striking of several different types of tools or implements and not by a storm.

Deputy Attorneys General Jessica Cafferty and David Morse in the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Unit prosecuted the case. The Idaho Department of Insurance investigated.