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7 people are accused of falsely taking federal disaster benefits after Joplin tornado

Also Wednesday, a man went to federal prison for bouncing checks and claiming to be a Joplin tornado victim.

May 16, 2012|edited news releases from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A federal grand jury indicted seven people from Joplin and a man from Lebanon, in separate and unrelated cases, for fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits following the tornado on May 22, 2011.

Karen Parks, 37; Ronald Irby, 29; Amber Peters, 22; Scott Olsen, 57; Wanda McBride, 51; and Pamala Shafer, 37, all of Joplin; and Valerie Jay, 41, of Borger, Texas, formerly of Joplin, were charged in separate indictments that were returned under seal by the grand jury in Springfield on April 3.  Shane Ellis, 36, of Lebanon was charged in an indictment that was returned under seal by the grand jury on May 8.  Those indictments were unsealed and made public following the arrests and initial court appearances of five of the defendants.

Investigators believe each of the defendants applied for federal disaster benefits by falsely claiming that their homes and property had been damaged or destroyed by the tornado.  The indictments charge seven of the defendants with one count of disaster fraud and one count of making false statements to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  McBride is charged with one count of disaster fraud and two counts of making false statements.

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Investigators believe the defendants made materially false and fraudulent statements to FEMA in their applications for disaster benefits.  According to the indictments, each of the defendants falsely claimed their homes and property had been damaged or destroyed by the tornado.

McBride falsely claimed that she was entitled to temporary rental assistance, the indictment says, because she claimed to have moved out of her home due to damage caused by the tornado and rented another residence.  According to the indictment, McBride did not move out of her home and did not pay rent at another residence.

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A man from Springfield who falsely claimed to be a Joplin tornado victim was sentenced in federal court on Wednesday for a fraud scheme in which he bounced more than $160,000 in bad checks at dozens of businesses in southwest Missouri.

Justin Compton, 31, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr to five years and 11 months in federal prison without parole.  This sentence, which is the longest prison term recommended under the federal sentencing guidelines, must be served consecutively to a two-year sentence for violations of the terms of his supervised release for two prior fraud convictions.  The judge also ordered Compton to pay $46,665 in restitution.

Compton pleaded guilty last December for bank fraud. Compton admitted he opened a checking account at Regions Bank in Ozark on May 20, 2011.  Although Compton did not deposit any funds in the account, he stole goods and services from various businesses in Greene, Barry, Jasper, Lawrence, and Taney counties by purchasing the goods and services using checks drawn on that bank account.

Compton convinced businesses to accept the checks by falsely stating he was a sergeant in theU.S. Armyand a victim of the tornado in Joplin.  Compton also attempted to keep the checking account open when checks began to be returned for insufficient funds by falsely telling a bank representative that his family had been victims of the tornado.

Compton engaged in similar schemes using accounts he opened at Higher One Bank, Armed Forces Bank and Academy Bank.  Compton admitted he wrote a total of 225 checks on those four bank accounts, with total losses of $160,672.  The number of victims identified to date is well in excess of 50.

 Disaster Fraud Hotline

Anyone with information about disaster fraud related to the Joplin tornado should call the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721, the Joplin Police Department at 417-623-3131, or the FBI’s Joplin office at 417-206-5700.

The FBI, Homeland Security Investigations-Office of Inspector General, and the Joplin Police Department investigated these cases. 

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From The Associated Press:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Two contractors from Laclede County are accused of fraud after investigators say they accepted insurance checks from three homeowners to repair tornado damage in Joplin but didn't do the work.  The Missouri Attorney General's Office says Jeffrey Wolson of Osage Beach and Gloria Diane Schoeller of Springfield defrauded homeowners in Joplin out of $38,000 after the deadly tornado in May 2011.  Their company is Insurexx.

The pair faces Jasper County charges of felony theft, unlawful merchandising practices, insurance fraud and acting as unlicensed insurance adjusters.  Schoeller also faces a Laclede County charge of interfering with a civil investigation.
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