Identity theft, auto title scams, arson for profit — a Kansas City crime ring allegedly did it all
It took local, state and federal investigators years to put together the case against Wandale J. Fulton. Now the alleged ring leader is set for trial in federal court in Kansas City next month.
You’ve probably never heard of Wandale J. Fulton. But by the end of this story, you might wonder why you haven’t.
Investigators say Fulton and his confederates juggled multiple illegal schemes for years that may have netted them over $322,000 – although the actual number is still uncertain.
Fulton, 40, has been charged in a 21-count federal indictment that alleges he “led an arson and insurance fraud conspiracy between 2013 and 2019.” At the same time, the government charges, Fulton, his co-defendant Jeremy D. Woods, 41, and five unindicted co-conspirators also stole people’s identification and used those IDs in a complex enterprise to buy automobiles from used car auctions in Kansas City.
The fact that Fulton was able to fly under the radar for so long is the result of a complicated and diverse set of schemes that kept him on the fringes of law enforcement’s sight.
“If all I had was illegitimate sources of money and an infinite amount of time on my hands to sit around and concoct fraudulent schemes maybe I could come up with this,” Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator Cpl. Nate Bradley told KCUR as he reflected on the twists and turns of the case.
The indictment claims Fulton and the others made false “representations and promises in insurance applications and claims” and then laundered the money obtained from the insurance companies.
Investigators would spend years unraveling the alleged crimes. In the end, it would take police and federal agents in two states to crack the case. But only after a couple of lucky breaks.
The Grandview Killing
Fulton’s history with law enforcement began in 1998, when he was living near 58th and Wabash in Kansas City, Missouri. According to Jackson County court documents, Fulton and three others drove to Grandview on January 10 of that year and fired an assault rifle into the rear glass door of a house, killing one man and wounding another.
Fulton and the others were arrested by Grandview police after a short chase where an officer “observed a party in the rear of the truck throw out what was later recovered and found to be an assault rifle of the same caliber used in the shootings,” according to the probable cause statement at the time.
Fulton would eventually plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and spend just 120 days in two Missouri prisons.
That conviction would come back to haunt him 21 years later.
Arson and insurance fraud
Fulton was released from prison in October 1999, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. He went on to get married, have children and start various businesses, including buying rental properties and opening the Cigar Lounge near 55th and Troost, court documents show.
In 2007, Fulton and his wife bought a mansion at 9500 Keystone Drive in Lee’s Summit for $617,000. The government alleges that home was involved in one of Fulton’s first insurance fraud crimes.
On Oct. 26, 2015, Jackson County sheriff deputies were called to the house.
In the report, the first deputy on scene said that he was met by Fulton who said while he was out of town on business someone kicked in his back door and stole more than $85,000 in property.
“Upon my entry into the residence, I observed the residence in disarray,” the deputy wrote in his report. Fulton told investigators among the property stolen were two air conditioning units, three furnaces, a $6,500 lawn mower and ten leather jackets.
But even though he pegged the loss to investigators at $85,000, he made a claim to American Family Insurance “for a total loss between $250,000 and $300,000,” according to the federal indictment handed down in August 2020.
“Fulton and his wife made numerous false statements on the insurance application,” the government alleges. After questioning by insurance company investigators Fulton dropped his claim and, the sheriff’s office said, the burglary case remains open today.
Fulton would allegedly move on to other schemes with other houses, including six homes purchased from the Kansas City Land Bank. Three other properties — at 5600 Jaudon, 1157 East 77th Terrace and 4009 Euclid in Kansas City — were allegedly involved in arson.
Fulton bought the property at 5600 Jaudon for $500 in June 2016 and promised to restore and rent it. He insured the property with Nationwide Insurance Company for $177,677, which would cover both the loss of the property and potential profits from renters.
A year later, “the house burned in a suspicious fire and was a total loss,” the indictment charges. Today, 5600 Jaudon is an empty lot.
Fulton and his co-conspirators claimed to have spent thousands of dollars renovating the house for rent and submitted false invoices to Nationwide. Investigators would later link the names on those invoices to associates of Fulton. Cpl. Bradley with the Missouri State Highway Patrol was the first to suspect something criminal was underway.
“These people aren't contractors; they don't swing hammers for a living. You shake their hands, they're not well calloused,” Bradley said.
One of those associates, Jeremy Woods, who bought the house the on Euclid that burned down, would eventually contribute to Fulton’s downfall.
Identity theft and auto title scam
While Fulton, Woods and the unnamed co-conspirators were buying houses and allegedly setting them on fire, they were also reportedly running a fraud that targeted auto auctions and other insurance companies.
“Always better to diversify your portfolio,” Bradley told KCUR. “If one thing gets shut down, you've always got this. That gets shut down. You've always got that.”
Fulton allegedly created a fake car dealership in 2017 under the name C.E. Sales & Company. He allegedly would steal somebody’s identification and use their good credit to buy cars at auto auctions in Kansas City.
Auto auctions for dealership are a complicated world unto themselves. Auctions have their own in-house credit operations and with a dealership license and a good credit score they will lend money to buy their cars.
Fulton, Bradley said, would buy a car on credit and sell it to one of his colleagues, who would eventually report the car stolen for the insurance money – making the auto auction, the person whose identity was stolen and the insurance company all victims.
“See how this thing just gets so convoluted so quickly?” Bradley said.
Law enforcement first connected Fulton to the scheme when an insurance company investigator was looking into the theft of a Mercedes that was recovered by the Kansas City Police Department. The owner of the car mentioned Fulton during questioning by the investigator. Fulton’s name surfaced again when a teacher in the Park Hill school district used some of his retirement funds to invest in Fulton’s car dealership. The teacher’s identity was then stolen and used to buy cars at auction.
A Missouri Department of Revenue agent was assigned to the case. “So we met at a McDonald's in the Northland and sat down and listened to his story. And I think we all started crying. It was just terrible,” according to Bradley.
The whole picture didn’t come into focus until fall of 2018 when Bradley, the Missouri Highway Patrol investigator, got a call from an Overland Park police detective. Police seized a car they believe was involved in a number of auto burglaries where the thieves were looking for guns. While they did not find any firearms, they found a pink folder with invoices from contractors and car insurance documents and asked Bradley, an expert in car thefts and insurance scams, whether he recognized any of the names on the documents.
Bradley said his ears perked up when he heard Fulton and the names of several other people connected to him. At this point in 2017, Bradley said, he wasn’t aware of the alleged arson-for-profit scheme but he knew those contractor invoices were suspicious, so he brought in federal investigators.
Federal investigators close in on Fulton and his crew
After looking into the fires on Jaudon, Euclid and East 77th Terrace, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agent Ryan Zornes got a search warrant for Fulton’s new home in Lee’s Summit. During the search, he found a semi-automatic handgun, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in March 2019.
Fulton, convicted of manslaughter in 1998, was arrested for being a felon in possession of a handgun.
Fulton was indicted in August 2020 along with Jeremy Woods, the alleged owner of the Euclid property that burned to the ground. About a year later, Woods flipped and agreed to cooperate with the government.
“The defendant participated in an arson and insurance fraud conspiracy, running from 2013 through 2019 with Wandale Fulton and others,” according to his plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to two counts of the 21-count indictment and now faces up to 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced.
Fulton is now set for trial on February 14, 2022.
His lawyer has not returned a call seeking comment.
The U.S. Attorney’s office and the ATF declined to comment.