Putnam insurance agent charged with arson, witness tampering

Gazette-Mail file photo
Winfield insurance agent Jimmie Harper Jr. is accused of setting fire to his Teays Valley home last year in September 2015.

Federal prosecutors filed arson and witness tampering charges against a Winfield insurance agent on Tuesday.

Jimmie Harper Jr., 36, is accused of setting fire to his home last year inside the Stonegate subdivision in Teays Valley.

In a separate set of allegations, Harper also is accused of trying to influence the testimony of an alleged kidnapping victim from Raleigh County.

The charges against Harper were filed Tuesday in the form of an information, which can’t be filed without a defendant’s consent and usually signals a defendant is going to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Monica Coleman also Tuesday filed a motion asking a judge to set a “guilty plea hearing” for Harper.

Harper was arrested late last month after a State Police trooper wrote in a criminal complaint about the allegations surrounding the witness tampering charge.

Harper allegedly tried to prevent a woman, identified only as “M.S.” in court documents, from providing information to a grand jury that would result in an indictment against his longtime friend Seth Timothy Radcliffe, 31.

Radcliffe has been charged in federal court with kidnapping his ex-girlfriend from her Coal City home in December. He allegedly shot through the door of her parent’s home on Racetrack Road and took her to North Carolina.

Federal prosecutors say they have recorded telephone calls between Harper and an incarcerated Radcliffe in which they discuss plans for Harper to meet with M.S. and her mother. Harper allegedly says he will give the mother and daughter a letter written by Radcliffe containing what he wants them to tell police about the kidnapping claims.

It was Harper and Radcliffe’s plan to use the letter provided by Radcliffe to influence the testimony of M.S. and her mother to get the kidnapping charge thrown out, according to charging documents against Harper.

Harper allegedly met with M.S. and her mother on Jan. 24 at a convenience store. The meeting took place inside Harper’s vehicle.

During the meeting, Harper asked his passenger to read out loud the letter Radcliffe had written. Unbeknownst to Harper, the passenger in his vehicle was acting as a confidential informant for law enforcement and recorded the meeting.

“Harper emphasized to M.S. that Harper needed the kidnapping charges to go away because of the severe penalties that attach to the kidnapping charges,” Trooper First Class Christopher Thornton wrote in the criminal complaint against Harper.

Harper also allegedly told M.S. that Radcliffe would have her back for the rest of his life for “not putting the charges on him,” according to the complaint.

Harper instructed M.S. to stay away from little details that could be detrimental to Radcliffe and that if M.S. were asked something damaging to respond with “I don’t know” or “I don’t’ remember,” the trooper wrote in the complaint.

Harper told M.S. he would send her a copy of the letter to go over again before the grand jury met and asked her for her email address.

In another recorded call, which prosecutors allege is between Harper and Radcliffe, Harper tells his friend that he met with M.S. and her mother for two hours and went over everything in the letter several times.

In preparation for their grand jury testimony on Jan. 26, M.S. and her mother met with law enforcement. M.S. initially gave an account of the events of the alleged kidnapping consistent with the version detailed in Radcliffe’s letter, according to charging documents. Her mother, though, immediately told police about meeting with Harper. M.S. eventually changed her story and Radcliffe was indicted.

A grand jury subpoena was served Feb. 9 on Harper for the letter in his possession allegedly written by Radcliffe.

The day he received the subpoena, Harper allegedly told someone who was working as a confidential informant to throw a portion of the letter out of his car window, along Interstate 77, the trooper wrote.

The portion of the letter Harper wanted rid of allegedly included points by Radcliffe that he felt were critical to his case, the trooper wrote. For example, Harper instructed the informant to remove a page of the letter that stated if M.S. makes certain statements, “That’s a bullet to my head,” the trooper wrote.

On Feb. 22, Harper and his attorney met with prosecutors and were presented with clips from recorded jail calls between him and Radcliffe, along with a clip from his meeting with M.S., her mother, and the informant who was in the car with them.

After the meeting, it was disclosed to Harper’s attorney that law enforcement utilized a confidential informant to record the meeting in the car, the trooper wrote. Later that day, Harper allegedly picked up the informant and drove to a remote location. He had the informant strip to determine whether they were wearing a wire, the complaint states.

Harper then allegedly began questioning the informant about whether they had been cooperating with police.

“Harper did knowingly conspire and agree with persons known to the United States Attorney to use intimidation, threaten, and corruptly persuade another person.” the information states.

Harper has been held in the custody of U.S. Marshals without bail since he was arrested Feb. 27.

According to his website, Harper owns an insurance agency that offers Nationwide on Winfield Road.

Last September, eight fire departments responded to a fire at his home in the upscale Stonegate subdivision in Teays Valley.

Harper allegedly “did maliciously damage and destroy, and attempt to damage and destroy by means of fire and explosive material, 7 Stonegate Drive,” the arson charge filed Tuesday against him states. Harper’s alleged actions resulted “in personal injury to a public safety officer performing duties.”

A Teays Valley firefighter was injured while inside the house, according to previous Gazette-Mail reports. The blaze started at about 6 a.m. and completely gutted the house, according to previous reports.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.

Show All Comments Hide All Comments

User Comments

More News