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.
By pleading guilty today, Pickett admitted that he fraudulently received disaster benefits by claiming that he relocated from one primary residence to another primary residence in Joplin because of damage from the tornado. To substantiate his claim of relocation, Pickett submitted several leases and rent receipts bearing the signature of his purported landlord, Dustin Showalter, 36, of Joplin.
On the basis of Pickett’s representations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized four rental assistance payments totaling $5,147. However, Pickett’s claim was false. Pickett did not relocate and Showalter was not his landlord. In fact, Showalter had been banned from the residence, which had been occupied by Showalter’s mother before she was relocated to a nursing home. Pickett and Showalter fabricated the documents Pickett used to substantiate his claim.
Showalter has pleaded guilty, in a separate case, to one count of disaster fraud. Showalter admitted that he committed disaster fraud by making false statements to FEMA in an application for disaster benefits. Showalter fraudulently received disaster benefits by claiming to have lived at a residence in Joplin at the time of the May 22, 2011, tornado, when in fact he did not live at that residence. On the basis of his application to FEMA, Showalter received $938 to which he was not entitled.
Under federal statutes, Pickett and Showalter are each subject to a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations 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.