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FBI, Joplin Police join forces to combat tornado fraud

Posted online
Last edited 11:51 a.m., June 24, 2011

A task force organized by the FBI and the Joplin Police Department met yesterday in Joplin to coordinate efforts to investigate and prosecute fraud related to tornado disaster relief brought on by the May 22 EF-5 tornado that hit the city.

Representatives from 13 federal, state and local agencies met to discuss tactics, such as documenting claims made to various agencies, communication between agencies and the public and maintaining a database of information to review and investigate complaints, according to a news release from Beth Phillips, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

“Federal disaster relief funds are intended to help families and businesses that have suffered tremendous losses from the May 22 tornado and need these funds to get back on their feet,” Phillips said in the release. “None of that relief money should be lost to fraud. We will work closely with our law enforcement partners to aggressively prosecute anyone who tries to victimize these individuals a second time or attempts to defraud taxpayers."

Phillps encourages members of the public who witness fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief funds to report the occurrences through the National Disaster Fraud Hotline, (866) 720-5721, or the Disaster Fraud e-mail at disaster@leo.gov.

Federal statutes that could be invoked by disaster relief fraud include:
  • mail and wire fraud;
  • false claims against the U.S.;
  • theft of public funds;
  • insurance fraud;
  • federal program fraud;
  • bank fraud;
  • credit card fraud;
  • Social Security fraud;
  • identity theft; and
  • disaster fraud.
Punishments for these crimes can be up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus fines of more than $250,000 and restitution to victims, according to the release.

"Governmental fraud and public corruption are priority investigative matters for the Department of Justice and the FBI,” said Robert J. Nixon, supervisory special agent for the FBI in Springfield and Joplin, in the release. “We are committed to doing our part to ensure that those who commit fraud related to the Joplin tornado disaster are held accountable.”

Additionally, people can contact the Missouri attorney general's office at (417) 895-6567 to report price gouging. State Attorney General Chris Koster recently said his office has received about 145 price-gouging complaints since last month’s tornado, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.
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