Earlier in the month, chaos reigned next to the Kellogg Center as flames shot into the air. The cause: the sudden ignition of an electrical fire that spread quickly throughout the Gerstacker International House.
The Albion Department of Public Safety’s fire/arson investigative team determined faulty wiring within the I-House – caused by improper maintenance – to be the cause of the blaze. The college committed insurance fraud by submitting an insurance claim on the building that exceeded the cost of damage done by the blaze, according to Jack Dougherty, the insurance investigator who discovered the fraud.
“It was more of a move to take advantage of an unfortunate situation,” Dougherty said. “While the college did not deliberately destroy the building, they appear to have cut corners in their maintenance and certainly did their best to squeeze as much money out of the damages from the fire as they could.”
Dougherty said that while property fraud is a common occurrence, especially after natural disasters, the case of Albion was a little more unique.
“It certainly wasn’t the first case of insurance fraud that I’ve seen,” Dougherty said. “But it was one of the first cases I’ve seen that involved a college.”
Dougherty added that, thanks to the recent decline of the economy on both a national and state level, he had noticed a rise in the number of property insurance fraud cases here in Michigan, from a total of five in all of 2008 to six thus far in 2009.
“I hope that the trend will not continue to increase,” Dougherty said. “But in this economy, people are trying to make a buck in any way they can. And that includes insurance fraud.”
Kelly Jackson, Battle Creek sophomore and former I-House resident, expressed anger at what she called the college’s callousness.
“Because of the college’s scam, I now can’t receive money for the things that I lost personally,” Jackson said. “Their little scam ruined it for all of us.”
Jackson said that while she was upset about the cost of replacing her possessions, it was the loss of photos and other personal memorabilia that struck her the hardest.
Jackson also believed that if the building had been better maintained, the fire might not have occurred.
“If (the college) hadn’t been trying to cut corners in every way that they could, someone would have noticed the faulty wiring and prevented this entire situation,” Jackson said.
According to Ben Dolmodin, director of facilities operations, maintenance on the I-House was the same as that of every other building on campus.
“We can’t physically inspect every inch of wiring that’s hidden behind walls every day,” Dolmodin said. “Doing so would be a huge nuisance for students and staff. We do the best we can, service-wise, with the money that we’re given.”
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