Eight Defendants Indicted for Disaster Fraud Related to Joplin Tornado Benefits

SPRINGFIELD, MO—David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that seven Joplin, Missouri residents and a Lebanon, Missouri man have been indicted by a federal grand jury, in separate and unrelated cases, for fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits following the May 22, 2011 tornado.

Karen Marie Parks, 37; Ronald Martell Irby, 29; Amber Nicole Peters, 22; Scott Bradley Olsen, 57; Wanda Gail McBride, 51; and Pamala Ann Shafer, 37, all of Joplin; and Valerie Ann Jay, 41, of Borger, Texas, formerly of Joplin, were charged in separate indictments that were returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Missouri on April 3, 2012. Shane D. Ellis, 36, of Lebanon, Missouri, was charged in an indictment that was returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield on May 8, 2012. Those indictments have been unsealed and made public following the arrests and initial court appearances of five of the defendants.

Each of the defendants allegedly applied for federal disaster benefits by falsely claiming that their homes and property had been damaged or destroyed in the May 22, 2011 tornado. The federal 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.

The indictments allege that 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 that 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.

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.

Ketchmark cautioned that the charges contained in these indictments are simply accusations and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. They were investigated by the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations-Office of Inspector General, and the Joplin, Missouri Police Department.