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Husband of accused Bucks fund-raiser kills himself

A Bucks County man charged in a $20 million insurance-fraud scheme with his wife, a prominent Republican fund-raiser, killed himself outside a Buckingham Township home Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Thomas French and Claire Risoldi
Thomas French and Claire RisoldiRead more

A Bucks County man charged in a $20 million insurance-fraud scheme with his wife, a prominent Republican fund-raiser, killed himself outside a Buckingham Township home Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler identified the dead man as Thomas French, the husband of fund-raiser Claire Risoldi. French, 64, was a retired Bucks County sheriff's deputy.

Details about French's death were not immediately clear, and detectives at the scene declined to comment Thursday night.

Police-scanner accounts suggested officers responded about 4:30 p.m. to a report of a man shooting himself in the driveway of a property on the 4800 block of Danielle Drive. The street is where members of the Risoldi family had been living while their New Hope mansion was being repaired, according to charging documents in the criminal case against them.

One source close to the situation said French left two suicide notes, asserting his innocence but describing himself as overwhelmed by the fallout from the charges.

"I committed no crime," French wrote, according to the source, who claimed to have firsthand knowledge of the notes. French also called the charges against him "unfounded allegations," the source said.

Later in the note, the source said, French wrote: "I am very sad to have done this . . . but there comes a time when pressure has reached its peak."

In his second note, the source said, French wrote: "I can't deal with this any further, the negative stigmatism, the false accusations, the embarrassment, being snubbed by friends, and the unfairness demonstrated to this day" by the state Attorney General's Office.

Officials said Thursday night they could not verify the existence of the notes.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said earlier Thursday that he had no immediate comment on French's death.

Risoldi, 67, is renowned in Bucks County political circles for the lavish fund-raisers she threw at her estate, dubbed Clairemont. She and French were married at a 2013 fund-raiser there. Last month, prosecutors accused the couple and other relatives of conspiring to inflate losses after three fires occurred at the mansion within five years, allowing the family to recoup millions in insurance payouts.

Lawyers for the family have vowed to fight the charges.

'Political vendetta'

Ronald Greenblatt, an attorney for Carl Risoldi, Claire Risoldi's son, who was also charged, said Thursday that the allegations levied against the family were the result of "a political vendetta against Claire Risoldi" and that French was "an innocent man."

"What the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and law enforcement did to him is morally reprehensible, and they have his blood on their hands," Greenblatt said.

The 43-page grand jury presentment, released last month, paints Claire Risoldi as the driving force behind many of the incidents prosecutors say demonstrated the family's repeated collections of overinflated insurance payments.

French, whose name is mentioned far fewer times in the presentment than that of his wife, was described primarily as someone who corroborated Claire Risoldi's claim that her expensive jewelry had gone missing during one fire at their home.

Still, French was charged with a slew of felonies, including theft, conspiracy, and insurance fraud.

Assets seized

Greenblatt said that the Attorney General's Office had seized many of the family members' assets before they were indicted, and that he believed prosecutors were ultimately trying "to stop [the Risoldis] from living their lives" before they could defend themselves.

Earlier Thursday, Bucks County Court's president judge, Jeffrey Finley, had requested that the case against the four members of the Risoldi family and their two alleged coconspirators be heard by an out-of-county judge.

All six preliminary hearings were originally scheduled for Monday, but a court clerk said Thursday afternoon that they had been postponed.