The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

March 10, 2014

Former agency employee pleads guilty in tornado fraud case

— A former employee of the Economic Security Corp. in Joplin pleaded guilty Monday to defrauding a disaster relief program that assisted victims of the 2011 tornado.

Herlana L. Latham, 32, a former resident of Joplin now living in Memphis, Tenn., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Springfield to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She was charged with the offense and two counts of wire fraud in an indictment returned June 11 of last year by a federal grand jury.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri said in a news release that Latham’s plea amounts to an admission that she and co-defendants Christopher L. Smith, 36, and John L. Williams, 31, who also now reside in Memphis, conspired to defraud a disaster relief program administered by the Economic Security Corp.

Smith and Williams previously pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing.

The rental assistance program, the Missouri Housing Trust Fund, disbursed funds to landlords who rented to tenants displaced by the tornado that struck Joplin on May 22, 2011. The conspirators stole a total of $8,565 from the program.

Latham, an ESC employee, submitted applications for rental assistance on behalf of Smith and Williams, knowing that they were not landlords or property managers of ESC clients, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The application forms contained false landlord information.

Smith assisted in the wire fraud aspect of the scheme by falsely signing two trust fund applications as a landlord, property manager or mortgagee. The ESC consequently issued him an $1,850 check on June 21, 2012, and a $2,085 check on June 26, 2012.

Williams participated in the scheme by purporting to be a landlord on two fraudulent applications and by accompanying other uncharged check recipients to the bank to cash checks and collect the proceeds of the fraud. Williams was issued checks totaling $3,050.

The co-defendants each face up to 20 years in federal prison without parole, a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled when the U.S. Probation Office has completed pre-sentence investigations.


COURT RECORDS STATE that Herlana Latham is the girlfriend of co-defendant John Williams.

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