DOYLESTOWN - One of seven members of a prominent Bucks County family accused of
participating in a massive $20 million insurance fraud has died from an apparent suicide, according to Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler.
Heckler confirmed to reporters that former Bucks County Sheriff Thomas French died Thursday afternoon and his death is being investigated as a suicide.
Officers were dispatched to a home in Buckingham rented by Carl Risoldi and his wife after reports of a man with a gunshot wound. Risoldi is the son of Claire Risoldi, French's wife and the matriarch of an influential family in the Philadelphia suburbs.
A grand jury investigation recommended criminal charges against four members of the Risoldi family, including former Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Carla Risoldi; her mother, Claire; French, Claire's second husband; and her brother Carl and his wife Sheila Risoldi.
Two alleged co-conspirators, Mark Goldman, a private investigator, and Richard Holston, a fabric vendor, also are charged.
The investigation resulted in the seizure of approximately $7 million in assets, including approximately $3 million in seized bank accounts, $1.2 million in jewelry, six Ferraris, two Rolls Royces, one Cobra and four other vehicles worth $2.8 million.
According to the grand jury, the investigation began after an October 2013 fire at Claire Risoldi’s home in New Hope, or “Clairemont,” as she referred to it. This was the third fire to occur at Clairemont in the previous five years, including one in June 2009 and another in August 2010.
Risoldi lived in the home with her husband, Thomas French; her son, Carl; and daughter-in-law, Sheila.
Following each of the fires, the Risoldis filed insurance claims with their insurance carrier, which to date has paid out in excess of $20 million in claims for the three fires.
The Risoldis are also seeking $20 million more in insurance claims for the October 2013 fire, including $10 million for jewelry that the grand jury found Claire Risoldi falsely accused the volunteer firefighters, who extinguished the blaze, of stealing.
According to court documents, the official cause of each fire was “undetermined.” In the case of all three fires, the grand jury found that there were large quantities of highly flammable materials stockpiled near the points of origin.
Further, video from a home security system inside Clairemont showed Claire Risoldi left the home a minute before smoke was visible outside and may have been inside while it was burning, which contradicts what she told both law enforcement and insurance representatives, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane says.
In addition, the grand jury reviewed evidence that Kane says established that the Risoldi family had a 20-to 30-year history of filing questionable insurance claims. In one case, it was discovered in August that Claire Risoldi still possessed jewelry she claimed was stolen in 1993.
As part of their scheme, the Risoldis allegedly increased the value of jewelry covered by their insurance policy from $100,000 to nearly $11 million.
The final increase in coverage occurred a mere 25 days before the 2013 fire. Claire, Carl and Carla Risoldi facilitated the receipt of invoices inflated more than ten-fold for Romanesque murals inside Clairemont depicting the family “in flowing robes gazing down from the heavens,” the grand jury says.
Claire and Carl Risoldi also allegedly misappropriated insurance money they received for living expenses and used it to engage in fraudulent real estate transactions for personal profit.
The Risoldis, with assistance and false testimony from Richard Holston, a fabric vendor, attempted to obtain $2 million for damaged window treatments at Clairemont, according to the grand jury.
Claire Risoldi waged a campaign of intimidation of witnesses, including threatening an insurance adjustor and an attorney that was involved in one of the real estate transactions, whom she also attempted to bribe to change her testimony, it is alleged.
The defendants turned themselves in when the charges were announced two weeks ago and are awaiting the preliminary hearing.