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 Pickettâ€™s representations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized four rental assistance payments totaling $5,147. However, Pickettâ€™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 Showalterâ€™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.