Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Wildest Insurance Fraud Scheme Texas Has Ever Seen

Theodore Robert Wright III destroyed airplanes, yachts, and cars in one of the boldest insurance fraud schemes Texas has ever seen. That was only the half of it.

Theodore Robert Wright III
Mugshot, following his arrest in Las Vegas. 
Gregg County Jail

Federal agent Jim Reed at the Athens Jet Center in July 2020.

When federal agent Jim Reed drove in to a small airport in the East Texas city of Athens mid-morning on September 15, 2014, he was expecting to find a straightforward case of arson—an easy case for the new guy. He introduced himself to the Athens Jet Center co-owners, two brothers in their seventies named Wayne and Gaylon Addkison, who led Reed to a small jet, a 1971 Cessna 500 Citation I, that looked like it had been barbecued on a rotisserie. “It was burned in half,” Wayne Addkison recalled. “The nose tipped on the ground and the back half was on the ground too.”

For two weeks the Citation had just been sitting on the tarmac at Athens Municipal Airport, next to the Jet Center, they told Reed. But two days before Reed’s visit, they’d come into work after receiving a call: the plane was in flames. Reed, a fit 29-year-old who was as careful with his clean-cut brown hair and clean-shaven face as he was with his deposition-ready phrasing, was only six months into his job as an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Reed didn’t doubt that the fire was the result of arson: A mechanical failure on an inactive Citation was about as unlikely as a lightning strike. As one pilot would later say, “Planes don’t just catch fire in a hangar. They don’t spontaneously combust.” Driving out from Tyler, where he was based, Reed considered the typical arsonists who might be involved. Was this a teen vandal? A local troublemaker?

Later, when he reviewed the airport’s surveillance footage, he could see a shadow of a man thrown from the plane in a ball of fire when it exploded. He checked the area burn centers, hospitals, and morgues. Nobody had turned up with burns. Whoever set fire to the plane had somehow walked away in one piece.

The Addkisons told Reed that a pilot had flown a small plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, in and out two weeks earlier, on August 29—just landed and then quickly took off. That alone seemed strange, the brothers agreed: rare is the pilot who flies into a small airport just to admire the layout. A couple days after that, the Bonanza showed up in Athens again—and this time, one of the airfield’s early risers, a pilot named Carroll Dyson, spotted its thirtysomething, dark-haired pilot slinking around the not-yet-toasted Citation. Innocently, Dyson initiated some small talk, and the pilot told him the Bonanza’s alternator and battery were having issues. “The plane won’t start,” the pilot said. Insistent on helping, Dyson looked at the battery, and then the pilot hopped in and turned the key. The plane started right up. “Well, it’s runnin’ now,” Dyson said. The pilot thanked him and took off.

In a small airport like the one in Athens, planes might come and go unannounced. But Dyson, who owned an aircraft-servicing business at the airport, was diligent about writing down tail numbers. Now Reed took note of the number Dyson gave him for the suspicious Bonanza: N273. Thanking everybody, Reed excused himself and called a worker at the Federal Aviation Administration, who told him that the Bonanza was in the process of being registered—the paperwork was so fresh, in fact, that it was sitting right there on his fax machine. The FAA representative shared the plane’s recent history with Reed: the Bonanza had been purchased in 2013 by Raymond Fosdick, whom Reed would later identify as the dark-haired pilot Dyson had spotted prowling around the airfield. Reed also learned the name of the owner of the burned Citation: Theodore Robert Wright III—“T. R.,” for short. He was a businessman with an address in the coastal town of Kemah, southeast of Houston.

Using his phone, Reed googled the two men’s names together. Within seconds, he realized the duo was internet-famous. He scrolled down and read the stories about a disastrous journey T. R. and Fosdick had taken two years earlier, in September of 2012. In what seemed to be a typical flight, the two left Baytown, near Houston, bound for Sarasota, Florida. Halfway there, 11,000 feet in the air, they noticed that their plane, a Beechcraft Baron, had caught fire. They used textbook procedures to carry out an emergency landing in the Gulf of Mexico, ditching the plane thirty miles from shore. Then they waited in the water, where sharks and Portuguese man-of-wars, which sting like jellyfish, have been spotted, to be rescued.

While they floated, T. R. documented their bobbing heads, and their subsequent rescue by the Coast Guard, on an iPad in a waterproof case. Wearing aviator sunglasses and a lightweight sun hat, T. R. looked straight into the iPad’s camera. His partner, Fosdick, was shyer. He smiled in the background with the obligation of a teen whose mom was asking him to pose nicely for a photo. “There’s Raymond,” T. R. said shortly after the ditching. “We seem to be okay, without injuries.” T. R. seemed only slightly out of breath as he navigated the waves on a flotation device. “I believe we’ve been in the water for about an hour now,” he said. “No sign of any rescue or emergency services yet.” As daylight dwindled, the two men treaded water for three hours, until the Coast Guard spotted and rescued them.

Reed also found a clip of the two on NBC’s Today show, one of many media outlets that shared their story. He pressed play and studied T. R. and Fosdick as they narrated their misadventure to awestruck host David Gregory. T. R.—the better-dressed of the two guests—had a lantern jaw, short-cropped hair, and rectangular glasses, and he sat on the set’s beige couch with his left ankle crossed over his right knee. He radiated confidence, intelligence, and ease as he told the tale. “People ask us, ‘Were you worried?’ Well, we weren’t worried at all,” T. R. said. Fosdick looked weary, with his left arm in a sling, yet he attempted the same bluster. Fear did enter his mind, he admitted with a submissive smile. “However, because of experience—because we’ve both been in stressful situations—we remained calm.”

Agent Reed didn’t know what to make of Fosdick and T. R.: First these two guys crash into the Gulf of Mexico together, then each flies into this tiny airport within days of each other, and two weeks later, T. R.’s jet bursts into flames. The more Reed dug, the more certain he became that the Citation fire was just one piece of a grand scheme.

T.R., who is now 35, had always sought adventure. When he was nine years old, he pushed a little Sunfish sailboat into Lake Champlain in Upstate New York and tried to sail the ten miles to Burlington, Vermont (much to his parents’ consternation). But as an adult, he found it was business deals that gave him a rush. He liked the competition, the stakes, and the thrill of achievement. And he loved to stir up drama. “He was always looking for something that had a story,” one of his associates told me. “And sometimes, he found things that had a story, and sometimes . . . he kind of created the story himself.”

Read more here:

Theodore Robert Wright, III


  1. This is an interesting read, thanks for sharing.

    One thing I don't agree with is the following statement. I do this all the time! Does that make me strange? LOL.

    "The Addkisons told Reed that a pilot had flown a small plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, in and out two weeks earlier, on August 29—just landed and then quickly took off. That alone seemed strange, the brothers agreed: rare is the pilot who flies into a small airport just to admire the layout."

    1. No, there's nothing strange about exploring new airfields. On some web forums, there's a competitive streak to touch down in every state in the US, to fill in the map so to speak. I've made it a point to land at every airport in my region at least once. But stranger is the person that writes down every registration they see, albeit useful in this situation.

    2. Also it is very common for those training for their commercial ticket having to solo land at one airfield at least 250nm away from home base on a minimum 300nm solo XC trip. I'm assuming he full stopped as required per Part 61 {14 CFR 61.123} before taking off again. What's unusual is someone thinking a landing like that is unusual at a smaller airfield. Hell people do this all the time around the country even as a student PPL solo for their XC time requirements.

      Anyone who thinks that landing and taking off again is unusual either has way too much time on his hands and is extremely nosy or he's just *thinking* he thought it was unusual at the time when in reality he never gave it a second thought until the Feds started asking questions and he wanted to make a name for himself. Airports are not suburban neighborhood watch streets where neighbors report suspicious cars lurking. Can we come up with a male version of the nosy neighbor Karen? How about Bob.

  2. Glad I'm not the only one. I will frequently fly to an airport, just to say I've been to it. Sometimes I'll go into the FBO to use facilities, or I'll just taxi to the ramp, reset everything, and then hit the road (air).

    1. Same here in years past ... not something you can do in a glider.

  3. Ok, I'll admit it.......T.R.'s life was more interesting than mine.
    But at least I am not languishing in a federal prison.

  4. Well shoot - after reading about all that adventure, now the high point of my day is to go feed the dogs.

  5. Toughest part for me to believe is how both federal Agent reeds and Mr wright are both good looking enough to play themselves in the made for TV movie this story is certain to become. Catch me if you can 2020 anyone?