West Alabama Man Pleads Guilty to Disaster Fraud Related to Tuscaloosa Tornado
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 15, 2011|
BIRMINGHAM—A west Alabama man pleaded guilty Monday to fraudulently claiming disaster benefits following the April 27 tornadoes in Alabama, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Maley.
ROBERT LEE SPIRES, 47, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler to two counts of attempted wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency of disaster-related benefits. A federal grand jury indicted Spires on the wire fraud charges in September. His sentencing is scheduled Feb. 8, 2012.
According to Spires’ indictment, he received $1,114 for rental assistance and $471 for personal property assistance from FEMA after falsely claiming on June 21 that he was renting a house on Short 25th Avenue East in Tuscaloosa when it was severely damaged by a tornado. He was not eligible for the assistance because he did not live at that address and did not own any personal property there.
Spires made further attempts to defraud FEMA, seeking disaster benefits for non-existent vision-related expenses and for a car and home appliances he did not own, according to the indictment.
The indictment outlines Spires’ scheme to defraud as follows:
The car Spires attempted to obtain benefits on belonged to an associate of his and was not damaged in the storm. Spires also faxed documents from the Fayette County Memorial Library to a FEMA facility in West Virginia in an attempt to claim benefits for vision expenses and the cost of home appliances. He faxed correspondence to FEMA on July 21 seeking reimbursement for about $276 in vision-related expenses and, on July 27, he faxed correspondence seeking disaster benefits for $2,169 worth of home appliances he claimed were associated with tornado damage at the Short 25th Avenue East residence in Tuscaloosa.
Spires faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
The public can report fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations through the National Disaster Fraud Hotline, toll free, at 1-866-720-5721, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The FBI investigated the case. The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the City of Fayette Police Department, arrested Spires in October. The Tuscaloosa Police Department also participated in the search for Spires. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case.