Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of West Virginia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Hurricane man pleads guilty to Federal arson and witness tampering crimes
BECKLEY, W.Va. – A Hurricane man pleaded guilty today to a federal arson crime and a federal witness tampering crime, announced Acting United States Attorney Carol Casto. Jimmie Arnold Harper, Jr., 36, entered his guilty plea to aiding and abetting arson and conspiracy to tamper with a witness.
Harper was a Nationwide Mutual Insurance agent with an office in Winfield. Harper admitted that on September 14, 2015, he arranged for a fire to be set at his own residence at 7 Stonegate Drive in Scott Depot. Harper planned for the use of a long range remote firing system to ignite the fire. He placed a chair with a tire in it in an interior room of his residence with the intent for that area to be the ignition spot of the fire. After staging the area, the drywall was knocked out of the wall so that the fire would spread further into the framing of the house. Prior to setting the fire, Harper moved his valuables, such as furnishings and personal items, out of the residence and into a storage unit in the Winfield area. He also arranged to be out of town so the residence would be empty. Another individual drove by the residence in the early morning hours and hit the button on the remote firing system to ignite the fire. The Teays Valley Fire Department was dispatched to the residence and one firefighter fell through the floor in the kitchen and sustained minor burns to his lower extremities. On September 15, 2015, Harper called in a fire claim to his insurance company, Auto Club Insurance Association, for $624,200 in structural damage and $468,150 in personal property loss.
On December 23, 2015, Seth T. Radcliffe, a longtime friend of Harper, was facing kidnapping charges. Harper admitted that on January 24, 2016, he met with witnesses in Radcliffe’s case in an attempt to influence testimony before a federal grand jury. Before the meeting, Harper spoke to Radcliffe about the plan and obtained a letter written by Radcliffe that was read aloud during the meeting. The meeting took place in Harper’s vehicle in the parking lot of a convenience store in MacArthur in Raleigh County. During the meeting with the witnesses, Harper emphasized that the kidnapping charges against Radcliffe needed to go away because of the severe penalties. Harper also suggested limiting answers that could be damaging to Radcliffe by responding with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” Harper admitted that he knew Radcliffe’s letter was not factually correct and was intended to corruptly influence witness testimony. Unbeknownst to Harper, the passenger in the vehicle during the meeting was acting as a confidential informant for law enforcement and recorded the entire meeting.
On January 26, 2016, a federal grand jury sitting in Beckley returned an indictment against Seth T. Radcliffe for one count of kidnapping and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. On February 9, 2016, a grand jury subpoena was served on Harper for the letter written by Radcliffe. On January 24, 2016, prior to the meeting with the witnesses in Radcliffe’s case, Harper directed the confidential informant to remove the last page of the letter. This page contained twelve numbered paragraphs written by Radcliffe setting forth points Radcliffe wanted to make to defeat the charges. After receiving the grand jury subpoena, Harper instructed the confidential informant to throw the last page of the letter out of his car window along Interstate 77. Law enforcement recovered this page of the letter on February 9, 2016, from Interstate 77.
Harper faces at least 7 years and up to 60 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on August 10, 2016.
The West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office, the West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the FBI, and the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Monica D. Coleman is handling the prosecution. The plea hearing was held before United States District Judge Irene C. Berger.