Jury's Guilty Verdict Follows Belief That Jones Cash Poor

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 18, 2010 12:00 am  

A criminal court jury rejected Aaron Jones' claim that he had no financial motive for burning his Chenal Valley mansion, despite the personal financial statements showing net worth of nearly $5 million.

Click here to see a chart detailing Jones' balance sheet (PDF).

And that Sept. 28 insurance fraud conviction has set the stage for the gavel to fall a second time against the 34-year-old lawyer and real estate developer in Little Rock's U.S. District Court.

Standard Insurance Co. of Hartford, Conn., will be pressing for a seven-digit summary judgment against Jones. The company intends to recover more than $1.2 million paid on an insurance claim after the arson of his west Little Rock home on May 30, 2008.

An all-female jury deliberated four hours before finding Jones guilty of all charges: three counts of mail fraud and one count of using fire in the commission of a felony. Lawyers for Standard Insurance believe this verdict all but sealed a favorable ruling in their civil claim against Jones.

"There's a higher burden of proof in a criminal case than in a civil case," said Matt Ponzi, partner in the Chicago law firm of Foran Glennon Palandech & Ponzi. "We think the criminal conviction precludes the civil action, so we will be filing the appropriate motions.

"If we get a judgment, we will seek a counterclaim for the amounts paid out."

Jones initiated the legal battle with Standard Insurance in Pulaski County Circuit Court on April 1, 2009, after the company refused to pay on a $1.1 million personal property loss claim from the arson.

That civil dispute shifted to federal court, and Standard Insurance filed a counterclaim to recoup $1.2 million paid Dec. 18, 2008, to cover the first mortgage held by Countrywide Home Loans of Calabasas, Calif.

With Jones' criminal trial looming at the time, the Oct. 18 start of the civil trial before U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. was postponed. For now, a jury trial remains scheduled for March 28, 2011.

Danny Crabtree, representing Jones in the criminal and civil trials, hopes to stave off Standard Insurance's expected summary judgment motion.

"Our plan is to ask the court to hold the motion in abeyance until our appeal is resolved in the criminal case," the Little Rock lawyer said.

Jones was taken into custody after a detention hearing on Oct. 4 and awaits sentencing from the criminal conviction.



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