By Jeff Lehr
Three Joplin residents have pleaded guilty to fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits after the tornado on May 22, 2011.
Wanda G. McBride, 51, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Springfield to applying for and receiving benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under false pretenses. Ronald M. Irby, 30, and Karen M. Parks, 37, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to committing similar fraud.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri said in a news release that all three defendants falsely claimed their homes and property were damaged or destroyed by the tornado on applications submitted to FEMA.
McBride claimed entitlement to temporary rental assistance because she purportedly was forced to move out of a damaged home and pay rent for another residence. FEMA initially provided her $4,786 for repairs to her residence and $938 for rental assistance. She later submitted fraudulent statements to receive an additional $5,628 in rental assistance, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The defendant admitted in court on Monday that she had submitted two fabricated rental receipts with an application for assistance in July 2011 and a fabricated lease agreement for a second address later the same month.
The federal prosecutor’s office said McBride further acknowledged that she never actually resided at either address and never signed a lease or paid rent for either residence. Both addresses were, in fact, fictitious, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
FEMA paid Irby $5,114 for tornado damage to a residence at 1823 W. 23rd St. and provided him with temporary housing. But he admitted in court that the address was never his primary address. A girlfriend had lived there at one time but had been evicted prior to the tornado, and Irby had actually been banned from the property, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Parks falsely claimed to have been residing in an apartment complex at 1502 S. Michigan Ave. that was damaged by the tornado. Her claim drew $1,368 in assistance from FEMA.
The U.S. attorney’s office said the truth was that Parks was living at another address at the time of the tornado and was getting her rent paid by a state-funded program for the homeless and disabled administered by the Jasper County Public Housing Agency. Because she did not pay her own rent, she was not eligible for rental assistance from FEMA.
All three defendants face up to 30 years in prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. Their sentencing hearings will be set following completion of pre-sentence investigations by the United States Probation Office.
Wanda McBride, Ronald Irby and Karen Parks were indicted for federal disaster benefits fraud in April following an investigation by the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations-Office of the Inspector General and the Joplin Police Department.