Four Ouachita County residents have been sentenced for their roles in a fraud case that involved the will of a man who survived the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
U.S. Attorney Dak Kees said the four were sentenced for wire fraud by Federal District Court Judge Susan O. Hickey in El Dorado.
According to court records, in January 2015, Matthew Seth Jacobs, a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in 2010, received a substantial amount of wealth through lawsuit settlements related to the explosion.
In January 2015, he died in a car accident at the age of 34, leaving an estate worth approximately $1.7 million.
When he died, his then-17-year-old son, Jordan, was his sole surviving heir. Six days later, Donna Christina Herring used Marion Diane Kinley's debit card to establish an account on Formswift.com, an internet-based platform that prepares and provides legal documents, including wills, to customers. Herring drafted a fraudulent last will and testament in Jacobs’ name, which named Herring's daughter, Jordan Alexandra Peterson, as the executor and the majority beneficiary of the decedent's estate. Peterson and the decedent were in a long-term relationship at the time of his death.
Herring presented a copy of the fraudulent will to her sister, Marion Kinley, and her brother-in-law, John Wayne Kinley, Jr., and had them sign as witnesses when all three knew that the decedent was deceased.
Herring then put the fraudulent will in a sealed envelope. The envelope contained a photocopy of the fraudulent will created by Herring and signed by the Kinleys after Jacobs’ death. The photocopied fraudulent will was then delivered to an attorney. When Herring learned that only an "original" copy of a will would be probated, she again presented a copy of the fraudulent will she created on Formswift.com to the Kinleys and the Kinleys signed as Testation Clause witnesses even though the Testator signature line was blank.
Peterson provided Herring the combination to the decedent's gun safe located in his residence. Herring then asked Peterson to leave the decedent's residence. After Peterson left the residence, Herring placed the fraudulent will she created in the safe. She then asked her husband and a family friend to search the safe for the decedent's will and gave them the combination. When the safe was opened, Herring's husband and the family friend found the fraudulent will that had been placed there by Herring.
In 2016, investigators led by the FBI executed search and seizure warrants and conducted interviews regarding the document fraudulently purporting to be the last will and testament of Matthew Seth Jacobs.
During Peterson's interview, investigators asked about the whereabouts of the decedent's cell phone. Peterson told investigators that she had it shortly after his death but no longer had it or knew where it was. This statement to investigators was false because, in fact, Peterson had given the cell phone to a third party a few months earlier. After the interview concluded, Peterson retrieved the cell phone from the third party and placed it in a safe at her stepfather's business. At no time did Peterson provide the cell phone to law enforcement or inform them of its whereabouts.
The fraudulent will created by Herring and signed by the Kinleys left all but $50,000 of the decedent's estate to Peterson. It was filed in the Ouachita County Circuit Court in March 2015, resulting in Peterson entering into a settlement with the decedent's heir, whereby the heir received $50,000 provided for in the fraudulent will, an additional $250,000 and several items of personal property. Peterson received all other assets of the estate minus some items given to the decedent's
brother. The total value of estate assets distributed to Peterson was approximately $1.3 million.
The defendants received the following sentences:
Donna Christina Herring, 51, was sentenced November 12, 2019, to serve 41 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Herring was first indicted in the Western District of Arkansas in July 2017 and entered her guilty plea in January 2018.
John Wayne Kinley Jr., 57, was sentenced November 12, 2019, to serve 12 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release on one count of wire fraud. John Kinley Jr.
was first indicted in the Western District of Arkansas in July 2017 and entered his guilty plea in April 2018.
Marion Diane Kinley, 57, was sentenced November 13, 2019 to serve 18 months in federal prison followed by three years of
supervised release on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Marion Kinley was indicted in the Western District of Arkansas in July 2017 and entered her guilty plea in April 2018.
Jordan Alexandra Peterson, 23, was sentenced November 13, 2019 to serve 6 months home confinement followed by three years of supervised release on one count of making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Peterson was first indicted in the Western District of Arkansas in July 2017 and entered her guilty plea in January 2018.
"I hope that the conviction and sentence in this matter represents some comfort to Matthew Jacob's son, Jordan Jacobs, who was the victim of this scheme to disinherit him in the wake of his father's tragic passing. I also hope that these sentences send a message to those who would seek to abuse the integrity of the Arkansas State Court system. This particular scheme, through its use of a fraudulent will and fake attestations was an assault on the rule of law. I am thankful
to the FBI in particular for their dogged determination in pursuing this million dollar fraud and to the District Court for making clear that when white collar offenders go big, they don't get to go home with probationary sentences,” Kees said.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Arkansas State Police. Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Wulff prosecuted the case for the United States.