Waiting for Disaster to Happen


No one with a conscience would ever wish for a natural disaster to happen. However, if you are interested in reaping the benefits of someone else’s demise, then you’re probably waiting for a natural disaster to happen at any time. (There’s always a fraudster lurking somewhere, waiting to take advantage of a victim. In this case, the victim was the government.) A press release issued from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) details the criminal efforts of two men who tried to make some extra money at the expense of those who lived through the 2011 Joplin tornado. The natural disaster swept through town and killed 158 people, while inflicting more than $2.9 billion in damages.

The press release states that a 34-year-old man claimed to be living at a residence in Joplin that was damaged during the tornado. He applied for disaster benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), claiming that he had to relocate to another residence as a result the tornado. He provided several leases and rent receipts with the signature of his purported landlord. (As you can imagine, the documents and the claims were false.) The fraudster was authorized to receive four rental assistance payments totaling more than $5,000.

It turns out that the alleged landlord really wasn’t a landlord. (Now there’s a surprise.) In fact, the 36-year-old man had been banned from the ”rental” residence, which had been formerly inhabited by his mother. (Did I mention she had been moved to a nursing home?) As a result of his fraudulent actions, the ”landlord” received more than $900 in FEMA benefits to which he was not entitled. (Now, I’m really shocked.)

Both men pleaded guilty to fraudulently receiving disaster benefits. They are each looking at a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, fines of up to $250,000 and restitution.

These fraudsters were determined to make some easy money at the expense of others. (Perhaps they are now pondering whether or not the pending prison time is really worth the amount of money they bilked from the government?) This story just goes to show that the government takes fraud seriously and will work hard to prosecute those who steal disaster relief money from deserving beneficiaries.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on a press release titled, ”Joplin Man Pleads Guilty to Disaster Fraud Related to Tornado Benefits,” published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on July 14, 2014.

SPRINGFIELD, MO—Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a Joplin, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today for fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits following the tornado that struck the city of Joplin on May 22, 2011, killing 158 people and causing more than $2.9 billion in damage.

Fred Lewis Pickett, Jr., 34, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to one count of disaster fraud.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.