Former Agency Employee Sentenced for Fraud Related to Tornado Benefits
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a former employee of an agency that administered disaster relief funds was sentenced in federal court today for her role in a wire fraud scheme following the tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011.
Herlana L. Latham, 32, of Memphis, Tenn., formerly of Joplin, Mo., was sentenced by U.S. Chief District Judge Greg Kays to 14 months in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Latham to pay $6,745 in restitution.
On March 10, 2014, Latham pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to defraud the Economic Security Corporation of Southwest Area (ESC). The not-for-profit corporation administered a rental assistance program, the Missouri Housing Trust Fund (MHTF) Disaster Relief Program. This program disbursed funds to landlords who rented to clients who had been displaced by natural disasters, including the May 22, 2011, tornado that struck Joplin.
Latham, an employee of ESC, and conspirators stole a total of $8,565 from the rental assistance program. Co-defendants Christopher L. Smith, 36, and John L.Williams, 31, both also of Memphis and formerly of Joplin, have also pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Williams was sentenced to eight months in federal prison and ordered to pay $6,945 in restitution. Smith was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $3,935 in restitution.
Latham submitted applications for rental assistance for payments to Smith and Williams, who were not the landlords or property managers of ESC clients. Latham did so by verifying false landlord information on the application forms.
Smith assisted in the wire fraud scheme in two fraudulent transactions. In June or July 2012, Smith signed two MHTF program applications as landlord/property manager/mortgagee, which was false and fraudulent in that Smith then knew he was not a landlord, property manager, or mortgagee entitled to receive MHTF program funds. Based on the false application, the Economic Security Corporation issued a $1,850 check to Smith on June 21, 2012, and a $2,085 check to Smith on July 26, 2012.
Williams assisted in the scheme by serving as a purported landlord on two fraudulent applications for rental assistance, and also by accompanying other check recipients to the bank to cash their checks, in order to collect the proceeds of the fraud. The Economic Security Corporation issued two rental assistance checks to Williams totaling $3,050.This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.