By Jeff Lehr
Fraud related to Joplin’s tornado a year ago figured into both the prison sentence a Springfield man was assessed Wednesday in federal court and the charging of two contractors from Lebanon in Jasper County Circuit Court.
U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr assessed Justin R. Compton, 31, of Springfield, five years and 11 months in a federal prison without parole for posing as a Joplin tornado victim while writing more than $160,000 worth of bad checks at more than 50 businesses in Southwest Missouri.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri said the sentence was the longest term recommended under federal sentencing guidelines applicable to Compton’s conviction for bank fraud.
The judge ordered that Compton’s sentence run consecutively to a two-year term that the defendant must complete for violating conditions of his supervised release on two previous fraud convictions. The judge also ordered that he pay $46,665 in restitution.
When Compton pleaded guilty to the charge Dec. 6, he acknowledged having opened a checking account at Regions Bank in Ozark two days before the tornado in Joplin on May 22, 2011, the U.S. attorney’s office said. He then began writing checks without having deposited any funds in the account.
The checks were written for goods and services at businesses in Greene, Jasper, Lawrence, Barry and Taney counties, with the defendant frequently persuading the businesses to take the checks by falsely representing himself as a tornado victim and an Army sergeant. The U.S. attorney’s office said that when the checks began being returned for insufficient funds, Compton again falsely represented his family as victims of the tornado to a bank official.
Compton also wrote bad checks on accounts opened at Higher One Bank, Armed Forces Bank and Academy Bank. The U.S. attorney’s office put the number of bad checks written on the four accounts by the defendant at 225 and the loss to the victims at $160,672.
In a separate and unrelated tornado-fraud matter, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed charges Wednesday in Jasper County Circuit Court against Jeffrey Wolfson and Gloria Diane Schoeller, the operators of Insurexx LLC, of Lebanon.
Wolfson and Schoeller are accused of defrauding three Joplin homeowners of about $38,000 through insurance claims adjusting and home repair services. The attorney general’s office said in a news release that the contractors accepted insurance checks from the homeowners without performing promised home repairs.
The state alleges that Wolfson and Schoeller falsely promised that homeowners would be reimbursed for payments they made to subcontractors and that the repair work would begin immediately. They also acted as insurance adjusters without being licensed by the Missouri Department of Insurance, the attorney general’s office said.
The contractors are charged with three counts of stealing by deceit, three counts of unlawful merchandising practices, three counts of insurance fraud and two counts of public adjusting without a license. Schoeller also has been charged in Laclede County with interference with a civil investigative demand.
The attorney general’s office said Wolfson will be prosecuted as an alleged prior and persistent offender, and could face up to 15 years in prison on each of the six most serious counts. Schoeller could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on each of her three most serious counts.
THE MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE warns that unscrupulous contractors commonly referred to as “storm chasers” will often try to get victims of storm damage to sign a contract allowing them to negotiate with the victims’ insurance company for repair work. The contractors then perform shoddy work or no work at all.