The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 16, 2012

Tornado fraud costs two Joplin residents prison time

By Jeff Lehr

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Two Joplin residents have been assessed prison time for fraudulently obtaining disaster benefits from the federal government following the May 22, 2011, tornado.

U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr sentenced Wanda G. McBride, 51, to six months in prison without parole at a hearing Friday in federal court in Springfield. Ronald M. Irby, 30, was sentenced by the court Nov. 8 to 15 months in prison for the same offense.

McBride must serve three years of supervised release after she has completed her prison stint. The judge also ordered that she pay $5,628 in restitution. Irby’s prison term is to be followed by five years of supervised release and he must pay $5,114 in restitution.

Both defendants pleaded guilty to disaster fraud in July.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri said in a news release that McBride obtained temporary rental assistance from the government by falsely claiming that she was forced to move out of a home damaged by the tornado and rent another home.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency initially awarded her $4,786 for repairs to her home and $938 for rental assistance. The U.S. attorney’s office said she subsequently submitted fraudulent documentation to receive $5,628 more in rental assistance. The documentation included phony rental receipts and a dummied lease agreement.

The U.S. attorney’s office said McBride later was forced to admit that she never moved to, or lived at, either of two addresses where she claimed to have paid rent. Neither address even existed, according to the federal prosecutor’s office.

Irby also falsely claimed that his home and property were damaged by the tornado in applications made to FEMA. He listed 1823 W. 23rd St. as the home damaged by the tornado and received a total of $5,114 in payments, and was provided a temporary housing unit.

It turned out the house had never been his primary home, the U.S. attorney’s office said. His girlfriend had once lived there but had been evicted before the tornado, and he actually had been banned from the property.