Painter admits inflating invoices for Risoldis
In 2011, artist Russell Buckingham painted two murals at the Risoldi family mansion near New Hope. One, in the dining room, showed their opulent home amidst ancient ruins, he said. The other, filling the domed ceiling of the house's entryway, depicted family members clad in robes and floating in the clouds.
In 2011, artist Russell Buckingham painted two murals at the Risoldi family mansion near New Hope.
One, in the dining room, showed their opulent home amidst ancient ruins, he said. The other, filling the domed ceiling of the house's entryway, depicted family members clad in robes and floating in the clouds.
According to Buckingham, he was paid $50,000 for his work.
Three years later, he said, the family matriarch, Claire Risoldi, told him that insurance companies were looking into how she spent their payouts after a 2013 fire at the home. He said she asked him for receipts suggesting he got $800,000 for the paintings.
On Tuesday, Buckingham admitted fabricating such invoices.
"I was a fool," he told Magisterial District Judge C. Robert Roth, battling tears. "I got pulled into this, and my only answer is yes, she asked me to do so, and I did it."
The claim from Buckingham underscored the point prosecutors wanted to make during the second day of a preliminary hearing for Claire Risoldi, other family members and two alleged co-conspirators: that the Risoldis fraudulently collected insurance money after three fires at their house in five years.
The Attorney General's Office says the ill-gotten payments totaled $20 million, and that the proceeds were used to fund an extravagant lifestyle filled with expensive cars, jewels, and other luxuries.
The family's defense team has denied the charges, arguing in part that the payouts were approved by the insurers' own investigators.
The preliminary hearing in Doylestown is expected to last into next week. When it is over, Roth will decide if there is enough evidence against each defendant to proceed to trial.
Earlier Tuesday, a New York City jewelry appraiser testified about his assessment of the value of Risoldi's jewels. The appraiser, Donald Palmieri, said last summer he inspected watches, bracelets, rings, and charms - items that survived the fire - and valued them together around $500,000.
That stood in stark contrast to other jewels that were reported stolen and missing after the fire. Risoldi claimed they were worth $10 million.
"It just doesn't compare," said Palmieri, a gemologist.
The defense argued that Risoldi's appraisals had been accepted by her insurer.
The defendants were charged in January with conspiracy, fraud, witness intimidation, and other crimes. Risoldi's husband, Thomas French, was among those charged, but he killed himself in February, writing in suicide notes that he was innocent but overcome by pressure.