Two men facing numerous charges in rural Fulda arson case
SLAYTON - A rural Fulda man who was charged last year for filing false income tax returns and earlier this year for theft by swindle and fraud will make a first appearance in Murray County District Court today on more felony charges. Philip Kramer, age 39, of Fulda, will appear on 10 felony counts that include aiding and abetting arson, racketeering, coercion, theft by swindle and more.
The latest charges against Kramer stem from a complicated plan to pay off debt by burning a conspirator's house for insurance money, the investigation of which led to the income tax and fraud charges. Just short of two years after a home and garage burned to the ground, more crimes were charged in what seems to have grown from a seed corn debt. The home owner, Ernest Johnson, has also been charged with several felonies, including racketeering and aiding and abetting arson.
On March 5, 2017, shortly after 1 a.m., a fire was reported at what was later determined to be the property of Johnson. He, his wife and children were away from the home at the time. A fire marshal was called in because the fires were deemed suspicious. There had also been fire in the barn, but that was extinguished, and tests confirmed gasoline had been used as an accelerant.
A Murray County Investigator was assigned to assist the marshal. In the midst of the investigation, law enforcement learned Kramer used his position on the Fulda School Board to threaten the job of Johnson's wife, if Johnson did not help him pay off a debt to Rabo AgriFinance.
The debt was incurred after the two embarked on what the complaint describes as unscrupulous seed transactions while both were involved as seed salesmen. Kramer allegedly worked under Johnson for a seed company, and defective seed had the company authorizing replant seed. Some bags of the replant seed were provided to customers, but the two men kept other bags, either selling it or using it for themselves. Johnson was later fired from the company for giving away seed he shouldn't have.
Kramer eventually went into debt obtaining seed from another company, and Johnson suggested getting a agrifinance loan. Kramer allegedly filled out paperwork for a $50,000 loan, but the paperwork was later changed to ask for a $100,000 loan. Law enforcement does not know who changed the amount.
As the business relationship between the two deteriorated, Kramer demanded Johnson pay the loan, plus another $25,000. Johnson contacted law enforcement after the fire and offered up his side of the story, telling the investigator he intended to sell one of his kidneys on the black market to pay Kramer, but did not follow through. Johnson allegedly said he and Kramer came up with a plan to burn Johnson's house, barn and machine shed to collect the insurance money.
After he allegedly confessed to law enforcement, he recorded several conversations with Kramer at their request. By May 2017, law enforcement interviewed Kramer, who said he did not burn Johnson's house and had nothing to do with it. As the investigation continued, Kramer's financial information led to the income tax and fraud charges.
As the investigation went on, Johnson continued to record conversations, unaware that Kramer was doing the same thing. In late May, Kramer allegedly acknowledged to law enforcement that he had tried to hire a relative to burn down the house, but that person did not do it.
Neither Johnson or Kramer have been charged with the direct arson - only the aiding and abetting of it, along with the other crimes. Both are scheduled to make a court appearance on the charges today.