Binge burning, false flooding wreck homes in Texas

Rundown old homes over-insured and ruined to inflate insurance payouts

2020 Hall of Shame

If serial home arson is an addiction, Patrick Wayne Bronnon belonged in rehab. He unleashed a frenetic $1.7-million billing bender of torched and flooded homes with a blast radius that spread through southeast Texas.

The Port Arthur man’s gang bought rundown old homes for as little as $25,000, and installed straw buyers. They deceptively bought large insurance policies that covered new, up-to-code homes — and expensive personal possessions that didn’t exist. 

The inflated policies guaranteed a fraudulent insurance windfall whenever Bronnon’s gang wrecked a house.

Bronnon recruited a posse of 40 cohorts to damage at least a dozen homes for insurance payouts. In the process, he endangered the fire fighters who rushed to quell the arson blazes.  

Crime ring fronts payments

Bronnon often fronted the down-payments and first insurance premiums to get the scams going. Then he or ring members burned houses within weeks of buying the policies. Others were flooded — soaking the homes, and insurers.

After Bronnon’s flaming match lit up one home, the straw owner lied she was frying pork chops. She suddenly had chest pain, went to the hospital and forgot about the pork chops. The frying meat ignited and finished off the home, she lied to her insurer.

Foil-wrapped chicken cooking in a microwave supposedly ignited when another owner left and forgot about the chicken. A faulty hotplate purportedly caused yet another fire.

Bronnon broke the water pipe of another home, flooding the place. His stooge homeowner claimed the pipe accidentally burst. Bronnon then lied that thieves stole more than $29,000 of possessions while the water-soaked house was being repaired. Fake furniture, construction materials, tools, an air conditioner unit, appliances, cabinets and personal items were falsely claimed as stolen. 

Claimed phantom burglaries

Bogus burglaries also brought in stolen insurance money. Someone entered a home through the garage while out, an “owner” told his insurer. The burglar stole more than $80,000 of personal belongings, including high-end clothes and electronics. Yet many were the same possessions that ring members claimed in other setup burglaries.

Bronnon was handed 78 months in federal prison, though he did not serve out his jail term. He died in summer 2020. Even so, a prosecutor’s warning at Bronnon’s sentencing lives on. It should remind all insurance fraudsters.

“This sentence is deserved not only because of the tremendous loss to insurance companies, but also in light of the danger Bronnon imposed on our first responders every time he set a fire,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox. “That he put his own greed ahead of the lives of others has cost him his freedom for a long time.”