Waiting for Disaster to Happen

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No one with a conscience would ever wish for a natural disaster to happen. However, if you are interested in reaping the benefits of someone else’s demise, then you’re probably waiting for a natural disaster to happen at any time. (There’s always a fraudster lurking somewhere, waiting to take advantage of a victim. In this case, the victim was the government.) A press release issued from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) details the criminal efforts of two men who tried to make some extra money at the expense of those who lived through the 2011 Joplin tornado. The natural disaster swept through town and killed 158 people, while inflicting more than $2.9 billion in damages.

The press release states that a 34-year-old man claimed to be living at a residence in Joplin that was damaged during the tornado. He applied for disaster benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), claiming that he had to relocate to another residence as a result the tornado. He provided several leases and rent receipts with the signature of his purported landlord. (As you can imagine, the documents and the claims were false.) The fraudster was authorized to receive four rental assistance payments totaling more than $5,000.

It turns out that the alleged landlord really wasn’t a landlord. (Now there’s a surprise.) In fact, the 36-year-old man had been banned from the ”rental” residence, which had been formerly inhabited by his mother. (Did I mention she had been moved to a nursing home?) As a result of his fraudulent actions, the ”landlord” received more than $900 in FEMA benefits to which he was not entitled. (Now, I’m really shocked.)

Both men pleaded guilty to fraudulently receiving disaster benefits. They are each looking at a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, fines of up to $250,000 and restitution.

These fraudsters were determined to make some easy money at the expense of others. (Perhaps they are now pondering whether or not the pending prison time is really worth the amount of money they bilked from the government?) This story just goes to show that the government takes fraud seriously and will work hard to prosecute those who steal disaster relief money from deserving beneficiaries.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on a press release titled, ”Joplin Man Pleads Guilty to Disaster Fraud Related to Tornado Benefits,” published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on July 14, 2014.

SPRINGFIELD, MO—Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a Joplin, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today for fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits following the tornado that struck the city of Joplin on May 22, 2011, killing 158 people and causing more than $2.9 billion in damage.

Fred Lewis Pickett, Jr., 34, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to one count of disaster fraud.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.