Moore Tornado 'Victim' Charged with Disaster Benefits Fraud15-Nov-2013
On May 20, 2013, a violent and deadly EF5 tornado swept through Moore, Oklahoma, killing 23, injuring 377, and causing an estimated $2 billion in damage. With more than a thousand homes destroyed and hundreds of people hurt, many Oklahomans qualified for disaster relief benefits.
Unfortunately, the aftermath brought forth additional heartache as looters scavenged the damaged homes and took what little the tornado victims had left. And looters aren't the only ones who took advantage of a tragic situation for personal gain. Others who did not suffer damage, or who suffered only minimal damage, filed fraudulent disaster benefits claim--a federal felony offense.
Earlier this month, one man accused of filing a false claim was indicted by a grand jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Ira Robert Schilling, 42, a former Moore resident, is accused of requesting benefits following the May 20 tornado, despite knowing that he was not entitled to them. He is indicted forr committing disaster benefits fraud and making false statements in connection with a claim for benefits, according to a United States Attorney's Office press release.
The release describes the allegations against Schilling as follows:
"Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the May 20, 2013, tornado affecting Cleveland County was declared a major disaster and the payment of disaster benefits was authorized. The indictment alleges that on June 16, 2013, Schilling signed a Department of Air Force memorandum requesting evacuation allowances and benefits on behalf of his dependents. In that memorandum, it is alleged, Schilling certified that after a May 20, 2013, storm he evacuated from a home in Moore, Oklahoma, and that he and two of his dependents were residing at the Safe Haven location in Norman, Oklahoma. Specifically, it is alleged that Schilling falsely submitted a travel voucher to the Air Force for costs associated with his relocation from Moore to Norman when he knew that no such costs had been incurred for a dependent-associated relocation. In addition, it is alleged that Schilling sent an email to the Air Force falsely claiming entitlement to extended Safe Haven benefits, including per diem payments, when he knew that he was not entitled to receive those benefits."
Disaster benefits fraud is defined in the United States Code along with the federal wire fraud statute found in 18 USC § 1343. Under this statute, wire fraud is penalized by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000; however, penalties are enhanced when the violation occurs in relation to a federally declared disaster. In this case, the maximum prison term is 30 years in prison, and the maximum fine is $1,000,000.
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