Carl Junction Man Pleads Guilty to Failed Attempt to Receive Tornado Benefits
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Carl Junction, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to making false statements to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a failed attempt to fraudulently receive federal disaster benefits following the tornado that struck the city of Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, killing 158 people and causing more than $2.9 billion in damage.
Gary L. Mitchell, Jr., 35, of Carl Junction, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to one count of making false statements to FEMA.
By pleading guilty today, Mitchell admitted that he claimed on a FEMA application for disaster assistance that his primary residence in Joplin had been damaged by the tornado. On May 26, 2011, Mitchell met with a FEMA-contracted inspector to discuss his claim and repeated his claim to have lived at 1905 Missouri Avenue. However, 1905 Missouri Avenue was not Mitchell’s residence at the time of the tornado. Mitchell owned that property, but had been renting it to another person for approximately nine years and did not live there.
FEMA denied Mitchell’s claim and he appealed. As proof of residency at that address, Mitchell provided a copy of his driver’s license (which he had obtained after the tornado) and a copy of a past due tax statement for the residence (which had been mailed to Mitchell at his Carl Junction residence). Mitchell’s appeal was also denied. However, if FEMA had believed his false claim to have resided at 1905 Missouri Avenue, the agency would have determined he was entitled to receive disaster assistance funds.
Under federal statutes, Mitchell is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General, the FBI and the Joplin, Mo., Police Department.
Disaster Fraud HotlineAnyone 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.