Former owner of the Falmouth Playhouse Ralph A. Miller III was convicted of money laundering and mail fraud last Friday, May 29, in the United States District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania, according to US Attorney’s Office spokesman Patricia Hartman.
Both charges relate to false insurance claims submitted for damages done to Pennsylvania playhouses Mr. Miller once owned the Pocono Playhouse in Mountainhome and the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.
Mr. Miller has a long history of tabulating damages to his holdings, having previously owned four playhouses, all of which were damaged by fires. One of those was the Falmouth Playhouse, which burned to the ground in 1994. Authorities determined that the Falmouth fire was set by an arsonist using kerosene, but no arrests were ever made.
The Falmouth Playhouse building, which used to be on Boxberry Hill Road in Hatchville, was constructed by John O. Crane during World War II. At that time, it was known as the Coonamessett Club and included a lounge and dance floor. The property was Cape Cod’s first public golf course, according to Enterprise archives.
After the war, the building was converted into a 596-seat theater by Richard Aldrich, previous operator of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. Mr. Aldrich wanted to create an Upper Cape playhouse to match his production at the Lower Cape location and opened the Falmouth Playhouse in the summer of 1949.
Next summer will mark the Cape Playhouse’s 90th season, but the Falmouth Playhouse will never celebrate that milestone.
A Pennsylvania resident, Mr. Miller bought the Falmouth Playhouse from Sidney Gordon for $500,000 in 1984. Four months later, a three-story barn that stored set equipment for Mr. Miller’s Bucks County Playhouse was destroyed by a large fire.
In 1988 Mr. Miller undertook a series of renovations to the Falmouth Playhouse. That same year, the Woodstock Playhouse in New York, also owned by Mr. Miller, burned to the ground. Authorities determined that the fire was set by an arsonist using kerosene. Although a series of letters claiming responsibility for the fire was delivered to a local radio station by a group that identified themselves as the “Regional Recycling Refusniks,” the Woodstock police chief did not believe the group to be responsible for the fire, and no arrests were made, according to Enterprise archives.
By 1991, hard times had fallen on the Falmouth Playhouse, which was threatened by foreclosure due to outstanding mortgage payments totaling more than $2.5 million, owed to the Resolution Trust Corporation. Mr. Miller struggled to avoid foreclosure for the next few years, but was able to reach a deal with RTC in 1994, promising to pay a fraction of dues owed by May 1 to settle the debt.
The Falmouth Playhouse burned to the ground in the early morning on April 28, 1994, destroying all but the chimneys of the World War II-era building. According to Enterprise archives, flames from the blaze reached 100 feet.
In an interview the next day, Mr. Miller denied circulating rumors that he had started the fire himself. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives later determined that the fire was set by an arsonist.
Although Mr. Miller said he hoped to rebuild the playhouse following the 1994 fire, he failed to settle his debts with RTC, and the playhouse was put to auction in October. The property was later sold to David Friel and became part of the Cape Cod Country Club.
No arrests were ever made in relation to the Falmouth Playhouse fire, but in 2011 Mr. Miller was indicted for one count of money laundering and one count of mail fraud in relation to other playhouses he owned in Pennsylvania.
The count of money laundering related to false documentation Mr. Miller submitted to his insurance company following the flooding of the Bucks County Playhouse after the Delaware River overflowed its banks in 2006. Mr. Miller deposited two checks totaling $905,000, of which at least $239,875 was from false claims.
The count of mail fraud related to false invoices Mr. Miller submitted as proof of loss following a fire that destroyed the Pocono Playhouse in 2009, according to court documents.
Mr. Miller was convicted of both crimes last Friday, May 29, and was given 14 days from that time to file a motion of appeal, Ms. Hartman said. The former Falmouth Playhouse owner could face up to 30 years in prison.