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Four accused of insurance fraud plot


By STEVE WHITWORTH The Telegraph HARDIN – A Kampsville woman recently fired from her job as Calhoun County’s supervisor of assessments now faces accusations that she falsely reported her van had been stolen and defrauded her insurance company out of nearly $3,200. Three other people face charges of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, a Class 4 felony, for allegedly helping her with the scheme by driving the van into the Mississippi River. Informations were filed last Friday in Calhoun County Circuit Court against Sherrie Brandie Kieffer, Jeffrey P. Angel, Zachary T. Blumenberg and Kristi L. Blumenberg. Kieffer is charged in separate informations with false report of a vehicle theft, a Class 2 felony, and insurance fraud, a Class 3 felony. One information alleges that on Dec. 29 of last year, Kieffer knowingly made a false report to Calhoun County Sheriff William Heffington that her 2000 Chrysler Town and County van had been stolen from her Kampsville home. The other information charges that on Feb. 19, Kieffer “knowingly obtained by deception control over $3,198.50 … from the Nationwide Insurance Company by making a false claim on an insurance policy.” Heffington said the Sheriff’s Department began an investigation after Kieffer reported the van stolen. “We got some tips and information rumbling around the neighborhood, and we found out possibly where the van could have been,” he said. “We found pieces of the van around different places. We had deputies running here and there, talking to people.” The sheriff said pieces later identified to be from the van were found near the Riprap Landing Access Area on the Mississippi River, about 1 mile off Illinois Route 96 and 1 mile north of Mozier. “We found some evidence at the landing,” Heffington said about the boat ramp. “We had the Illinois Conservation Police come in with sonar equipment, and they found what we believed was the vehicle.” Last Friday, the Conservation Police returned to the river with more sophisticated sonar equipment, the sheriff said. He said they attached a heavy magnet to the submerged vehicle and marked the spot with a buoy. Dive teams then were called in, with divers coming from the fire departments in Hillsboro, Jacksonville and Morgan County. “They got to the bottom of the river and had to fight the current,” Heffington said. “They got a diver down there to get it hooked up and harnessed up.” After that, authorities had some difficulty pulling the van from the river, the sheriff said. He said it was found in 25 feet of water, about 100 feet from the boat ramp. “It was sucked down in the mud,” he said. The first towing company called in broke its equipment trying to pull the vehicle free, and the second couldn’t budge it, either, Heffington said. Finally, by wrapping a chain around a large cottonwood tree along the riverbank, authorities were able to get enough leverage to pull the van from the river. “We finally got it to give, and we got it pulled out of there, and that was the van we were looking for,” he said. The information against Angel alleges he “caused (the van) to be driven into the Mississippi River.” Zachary Blumenberg allegedly “drove and damaged (the van) … prior to the van being driven into the Mississippi River,” the charge against him said. “Apparently, they were beating (the van) off the trees and stuff before they ditched it,” Heffington said. The information against Kristi Blumenberg alleges she “drove the fellow co-conspirators from the scene of the crime.” Heffington said the other three defendants all are friends with Kieffer. Kieffer faces up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $25,000 and restitution on the insurance fraud charge, as well as a year of mandatory supervised release and probation or conditional discharge up to two-and-a-half years. On the false report charge, she faces a prison term of 18 months to two-and-a-half years, a fine up to $25,000 and restitution, as well as two years of mandatory supervised release and probation or conditional discharge up to four years. The other defendants face up to 18 months in prison, fines up to $25,000 and restitution, as well as one year of mandatory supervised release and probation or conditional discharge up to two-and-a-half years. “We just followed the facts, and where they lead us is where they go,” Heffington said about the investigation. “I don’t know what (Kieffer) was thinking.” Last month, the Calhoun County Board acted under provisions of a seldom-used state law to fire Kieffer, the county’s elected supervisor of assessments, effective immediately. Kieffer has the right to appeal her dismissal. Calhoun County State’s Attorney Rick Ringhausen released a statement explaining that the County Board’s problems with the assessor go back to 2007. Last month, the Illinois Department of Revenue notified the county that the state no longer would reimburse half of the assessor’s $32,000 salary because of assessment problems, which Ringhausen said were the cause for Kieffer’s dismissal.

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