"Operation Candlelight" targeted ringleaders and fake renters in scam

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Twenty people are under arrest,  accused of setting rental homes on fire then filing more than a million dollars of false insurance claims.

Those arrested in “Operation Candlelight” include the ringleaders and fake renters, also known as “Straw Renters.”

Since 2007, the state attorney says the scam resulted in 12 house fires and worked like this: Organizers recruited people to rent out homes in South Dade. Those renters would allegedly fill the houses with furniture, which was often stolen or bought from a thrift store, then set a candle next to a plant or find another way to start a fire that appeared accidental. Then they’d allegedly file a renter’s insurance claim.

“They wouldn’t even get new furniture.  They would take the same furniture they’d just filed a claim on and received the money for, go rent another house and they would put the same furniture that’s already been destroyed in the next house.  They were so bold about it they didn’t even try to hide it at all,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle explained.

Officials say we could all pay the price for crimes like these.

“It’s a simple scam but it had a lot of devastating consequences to many,” said Rundle.

“Everybody who will write a check to their insurance company in the next month… their rates go up when this kind of behavior is not arrested and dealt with aggressively,” Florida Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater said.

Fernandez-Rundle, Atwater and members of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Economic Crimes and Arson investigators all worked the case.

Charges include racketeering for the organizers and arson and theft charges for the renters.




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