Ex-BR furniture store operator pleads guilty to wire fraud

A former operator of a Baton Rouge furniture store destroyed by a massive fire in 2006 pleaded guilty this week to a wire fraud charge stemming from the blaze and was put on probation, his attorney said Thursday.

Ron Henderson, who managed American Wholesale Furniture at 10100 Florida Blvd., and four others were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2008 in an alleged scheme to collect insurance money in the aftermath of the fire.

The indictment claimed Ron Henderson and his son, Brett Henderson, transported a “significant portion” of the store’s inventory to a Mississippi furniture store owned by the elder Henderson on Dec. 7, 2006. Three days later, the indictment alleged, Ron and Brett Henderson set fire to the Baton Rouge store.

Ron and Brett Henderson were indicted in March 2008 on counts of arson and making false statements.

Ron Henderson pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal district court in Baton Rouge to a wire fraud charge, said his attorney, John McLindon. U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, of New Orleans, put Ron Henderson — who is in poor health — on probation for five years, McLindon said.

The wire fraud charge alleged that Ron Henderson was aware that an inflated inventory list was faxed to the store’s insurance company after the fire, but he failed to stop the transmission.

“He’s a really good guy. He just made a mistake,” McLindon said, noting that the father of 11 children honorably served his country in the military.

McLindon stressed that none of the defendants in the case pleaded guilty to arson.

“In my opinion, there was no evidence of arson,” he said.

The indictment did not detail how the fire was ignited.

U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux declined comment Thursday. David Dugas was U.S. Attorney for the Baton Rouge-based Middle District of Louisiana at the time of the indictment.

Brett Henderson, who was accused in the indictment of sending the inflated inventory list, previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was put on probation, McLindon said.

Two others — Krista Nesbit, the store’s vice president, and store owner Dr. David Wiltz — also pleaded guilty in the case and were placed on probation, McLindon said. Nesbit is Ron Henderson’s ex-wife.

McLindon said charges were dismissed against a fifth defendant, Ron Glover. He was charged with making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.

Ron and Brett Henderson, Nesbit and Wiltz were ordered to pay a combined $100,000 in restitution, McLindon said.