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Montana man ordered to pay restitution for arson-for-hire


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Worden firefighters battle a blaze that destroyed a house, garage and shed at 1556 Pacific Ave., in Ballantine in August 2016. | Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette

BILLINGS, Montana (AP) — A south-central Montana man who pleaded no contest to hiring someone to burn down his house for the insurance money so he could pay a debt to the federal government in a drug case has been ordered to pay restitution.

District Judge Jessica Fehr on Tuesday sentenced Jimmie Richard James, 78, to five years on probation and ordered him to pay over $172,000 to the insurance company for the August 2016 fire in Ballantine, The Billings Gazette reported.

James, then 73, offered his girlfriend $5,000 to burn down his house according to recorded phone calls made from a Colorado prison in 2016, while James was serving time for meth trafficking, prosecutors said.

A federal judge had also ordered James to pay the federal government $164,000 from the sale of his house as part of his sentence.

James was concerned the house would only sell for $130,000 and he would have to pay another $30,000 in storage costs for his belongings, so he called his girlfriend to arrange a fire. He also called his attorneys to make sure the home was still insured, court records said.

The insurance company paid out $168,000 after the fire, which James used to satisfy his forfeiture order, court records said.