Thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina wound up in Tallahassee last year and five of them ultimately got busted for scamming the Red Cross. Thursday, the Red Cross got some of that money back, which it hopes it can now use to help others coping with disaster.
Thousands of evacuees descended on Tallahassee in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; 1,700 families turned to the Red Cross for help paying for hotel rooms, food and more.
A Mississippi man named Little Joe West and four others decided it was the perfect time to make a little extra money.
"Little Joe told us he had lost five cars in the hurricane and that FEMA was going to buy him all new cars, and that every day that FEMA was giving him a $500 check to cash."
It wasn't FEMA money. It was Red Cross money, and arrest reports show West altered a legitimate voucher, boosting it by a thousand bucks, and he stole 10 blank vouchers from the Red Cross which he and his friends proceeded to cash to the tune of more than $13,000.
DET Chris Coxwell of the Leon County Sheriff's Office said, "It hits close to home, because I know if I was a legitimate victim, I'd be very upset that someone was taking money from me that I legitimately need."
Now, not quite a year later, the Leon County Sheriff's Department is handing over a check for just shy of $5,000, money it was able to recover from the wallets and pockets of the Mississippi five.
Chris Floyd of the Red Cross said, "It was unfortunate that the funds were stolen, but what really is nice here is the systems worked to catch the individuals who stole the money."
Of the five people arrested, ringleader Little Joe West and his younger brother Jefferson West are serving time behind bars, and the three others busted for scamming the Red Cross are now on probation.