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Youngstown man pleads guilty in $1M arson, fraud case

YOUNGSTOWN — Juan Rodriguez, 33, of Potomac Avenue in Youngstown, one of seven people charged in a three-county $1 million scheme to burn buildings to collect insurance money, pleaded guilty Wednesday to reduced charges of forgery and insurance fraud and will be sentenced at 11 a.m. Nov. 8.

He could get a couple of years in prison. Prosecutors are not recommending a specific sentence.

Rodriguez, also known as Johnny Rodriguez, entered his plea before Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. The case is being prosecuted by Dan Kasaris, assistant Ohio attorney general.

Rodriguez and the seven others were indicted in July 2021. The offenses are alleged to have occurred in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties from 2011 to 2017, and were investigated by authorities in those counties, as well as the Ohio State Fire Marshal, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Secret Service and Social Security Inspector General.

Rodriguez was indicted on several charges. He was accused of being part of an illegal enterprise involved in the Aug. 19, 2015, arson of a home Rodriguez and his wife, co-defendant Kyrene Rodriguez, owned at 2036 Atkinson Ave. on the East Side.

The Rodriguezes purchased the property at auction for $5,000 in 2012 and did not live in it, according to court documents. In May 2015, they took out an insurance policy on the home and occasionally stayed at the home. On Aug. 19, 2015, the home burned to the ground.

Co-defendant Heather Kellar set the fire so that investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, documents state. But the cause of the fire was determined by other means than through samples analyzed by a lab.

“The Rodriguezes were aware that the fire was going to be set by Kellar and were part of the plan,” documents state. The insurance company paid out $336,577 on the insurance claim.

The insurance fraud charge alleged that Juan Rodriguez made a false statement to the insurance company as part of the fraud. The forgery charge was for forging or counterfeiting U.S. currency. The money later was passed in Mahoning and Trumbull counties by a number of people in bars, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses, documents state.

Some of the charges filed against Rodriguez will be dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea.

In addition to Rodriguez, the defendants are Patricia Floyd, 69, of Youngstown; Christopher Gibboney, 29, of Girard; Kyrene Rodriguez, also known as Kyrene Moirai Rinard Floyd, 36, of Youngstown; Heather Marie Kellar, formerly known as James Kellar, 48, of Niles; Theodore Edward Dozier Wynn, also known as Ted Wynn, 29, of Youngstown; and Jessica Gonzalez, 51, of Youngstown.

The crimes alleged include burning several buildings owned by defendants; defrauding insurers, including Allstate, Farmers Insurance and Nationwide Insurance; counterfeit money changing of $1 bills into $20, $50 and $100 bills; hiding from the Social Security Administration a mineral-rights windfall so that more than $30,000 in benefits could be collected; and burglarizing a home intending to destroy evidence about their alleged crimes.

Mahoning County Proecutor Paul Gains said every time a building was torched, lives were put in danger.

erunyan@vindy.com

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