Two women guilty of insurance fraud after setting fires

(COLUMBIA, S.C.) – Aug. 9, 2019 – South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announces that Tracie Lee Grice, 48, of Tabor City, North Carolina, and Heather Beach Massey, 39, of Dillon, South Carolina, entered pleas of guilty on August 8, 2019 on insurance fraud charges. Grice pleaded guilty to one count of Arson 3rd Degree and one count of Making False Insurance claim to Obtain Benefits for Fire Loss. Massey pleaded guilty to one count of Presenting False Claim for Insurance Payment, value $10,000 or more.

The Honorable Paul M. Burch accepted the pleas and sentenced Grice to 5 years in prison on each charge and fined $5,000. Grice’s sentence was suspended to 3 years of probation and a $1,000 fine.  Massey was also sentenced to 5 years in prison and fined $5,000. Massey’s sentence was suspended to 2-and-a-half years of probation and a $1,000 fine.

“This was a dangerous scheme that put firefighters’ lives at risk,” said Attorney General Wilson. “Our insurance fraud unit is working tirelessly to find anyone who commits insurance fraud, both because of the danger and because it raises insurance rates for all of us,” said Attorney General Wilson.

On August 22, 2018, emergency services responded to Grice’s residence in Dillon County due to a reported fire which resulted in only smoke damage to her mobile home. The next day, emergency services responded to another, more severe fire at the same property, and the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to the property regarding a suspicious house fire. The responding officer spoke with firefighters on scene that had also responded the night before, and they advised that the previous fire was caused by a pot of cooking oil left on the stove. A fire and origin report concluded that the second, more severe fire originated in the master bedroom and was an intentional ignition of curtains by a candle.

Subsequent investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Farm Bureau elicited a statement from Massey wherein she revealed that Grice intentionally left the grease pan on the stove and that Grice was upset that it didn’t destroy the home. The next day, Grice enlisted the help of Massey by providing her with her alarm code and security password as well as the location of the matches within her home. Defendant Grice staged the house prior to the fires by removing all her good furniture and instructed Massey not to call the fire department because they would arrive too quickly. Massey stated that on the night of the second fire, she entered the home and lit a match, then a pillow, then the curtains.

It was subsequently revealed that Grice wanted the home burned because she was behind on her payments. Massey generated a fake lease so that she would have standing to claim losses as well. Grice filed an insurance claim with Farm Bureau for $91,200 in damages but was not paid due to suspected fraud.

The case was investigated by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Special Agent Joseph Neff and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General James Haarsgaard.  Grice was represented by E. Leary McKenzie and Massey was represented by Guy Ballenger.

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