News and Press Releases

three defendants plea guilty todisaster fraud
related to joplin tornado benefits

July 9, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that three Joplin, Mo., residents have pleaded guilty in federal court, in separate and unrelated cases, to fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits following the May 22, 2011, tornado.

Wanda Gail McBride, 51, of Joplin, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard E. Dorr today to the charge contained in April 3, 2012, federal indictment. McBride was taken into custody at the conclusion of her change of plea hearing. Ronald Martell Irby, 30, and Karen Marie Parks, 37, both of Joplin, also pleaded guilty to disaster fraud on Friday, July 6, 2012.

The defendants applied for federal disaster benefits by falsely claiming that their homes and property had been damaged or destroyed in the tornado. By pleading guilty, they admitted that they made materially false and fraudulent statements to FEMA in their applications for disaster benefits.

McBride falsely claimed that she was entitled to temporary rental assistance because she moved out of her home due to damage caused by the tornado and rented another residence. McBride was initially awarded $4,786 by FEMA for repairs to her residence, as well as $938 for rental assistance. McBride later submitted fraudulent documentation in order to receive $5,628 in additional rental assistance. McBride admitted today that she submitted two fabricated rental receipts with her application for FEMA rental assistance in July 2011. Later that month, she submitted a fabricated lease agreement for FEMA rental assistance at another address. McBride admitted that she had never moved to, resided at, signed a lease for, or paid rent at either address; in fact, neither address exists.

Irby listed 1823 W. 23rd St., Joplin, as his primary residence on a FEMA form in which he claimed the residence was damaged by the tornado. Irby received a total of $5,114 in FEMA payments and was provided with a temporary housing unit. However, Irby admitted today that this was never his primary residence.  Rather, Irby’s girlfriend had been a one-time resident, who was evicted prior to the tornado.  Further, Irby himself had been banned from the property.

Parks listed 1502 S. Michigan Ave., Joplin, as her primary residence on a FEMA form in which she claimed the residence was damaged by the tornado. Parks received a payment of $1,368 from FEMA. However, Parks admitted today that she did not live at that address at the time of the disaster. Parks’s rent at another residence was paid through the Economic Security Rental Assistance Program, a state-funded program administered by the Jasper County Public Housing Agency, for individuals who were homeless and/or disabled.  Because Parks did not pay her own rent, she was not eligible to receive rental assistance payments from FEMA.

Under federal statutes, each of the defendants is subject to a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

Disaster Fraud Hotline

Anyone with information about disaster fraud related to the Joplin tornado should call the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721, the Joplin Police Department at 417-623-3131, or the FBI’s Joplin office at 417-206-5700.

These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. They were investigated by the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations-Office of Inspector General, and the Joplin, Mo., Police Department.

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