The U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield announced Wednesday that eight people have been accused in indictments of fraudulently obtaining federal disaster benefits after the Joplin tornado a year ago.
David Ketchmark, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a news release that seven current or former residents of Joplin and a Lebanon man were charged in indictments returned under seal by a federal grand jury.
The indictments were unsealed and made public after the arrests and initial court appearances of five of the defendants.
Named in separate indictments returned under seal April 3 were current Joplin residents Karen M. Parks, 37; Ronald M. Irby, 29; Amber N. Peters, 22; Scott B. Olsen, 57; Wanda G. McBride, 51; and Pamala A. Shafer, 37, and a former Joplin resident now living in Borger, Texas, Valerie A. Jay, 41. Shane D. Ellis, 36, of Lebanon, was named in a sealed indictment returned May 8.
The U.S. attorney’s office said the defendants applied for federal disaster benefits through the Federal Emergency Management Agency by claiming that their homes or properties were damaged or destroyed by the tornado on May 22, 2011, that cut a six-mile path across Joplin.
Seven of the defendants are charged with single counts of disaster fraud and making false statements to FEMA. The indictments allege that they claimed to have lived at addresses where they never lived, including an address on Virginia Avenue in Joplin claimed by the man from Lebanon.
McBride is charged with a single count of disaster fraud and two counts of making false statements. In order to obtain temporary rental assistance, she falsely claimed to have been forced to move from a damaged residence to homes at two other addresses where she paid rent, according to the indictment.
Joplin police arrested three of the defendants this week. Irby was arrested Monday, and Parks and Olsen were arrested Tuesday.
THE U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE says anyone with information about disaster fraud related to the Joplin tornado should contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud hot line at 866-720-5271, the FBI’s office in Joplin at 417-206-5700, or the Joplin Police Department at 417-623-3131.