With countless millions of dollars in federal aid expected to flow into Shasta County in the wake of the Carr Fire, authorities in Redding issued warnings Thursday to scam artists that they will be targeted and prosecuted by local and federal officials.
“Unfortunately, in the midst of a disaster like this, there are some who seek to take advantage of the tragedy to enrich themselves and prey on victims,” U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said at a news conference in Redding with colleagues from the FBI, Shasta County sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices and Redding police. “We do not want one tragedy to turn into two.”
Even while the fire was still burning out of control in some areas, law enforcement officials reported detaining people suspected of looting evacuated neighborhoods or being in an evacuated area without permission.
Now, with the Carr Fire at 93 percent containment after killing eight people and destroying more than 1,000 homes, officials say they are working against fraudulent contractors and others lured to the area in hopes of cashing in.
On Monday, Redding police arrested a 46-year-old man they say was offering bids to repair damaged homes but is not licensed to do so.
Police arrested Arleigh Holladay of Redding after he allegedly took a $1,500 cash deposit from an elderly woman, an amount that was nearly half the cost of the total repair.
“Officers suspected the bid to be overpriced, not prepared by a licensed contractor, and potentially a fraudulent offer,” Redding police said in a news release. The department also said that Holladay showed up at the woman’s home under the influence of methamphetamine and that a search of his car turned up more of the drug.
He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and offering to perform repairs as an unlicensed contractor and arrested, marking his 19th arrest in the county, police said.
Authorities say they expect more such cases as relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other organizations flow into the area and others devastated by this summer’s massive wildfires.
“Disaster-related fraud comes in many forms,” Scott said in remarks prepared for the news conference. “One of the most common frauds involves individuals who apply for and receive benefits to which they are not entitled.
“The most brazen may steal the identities of victims and use victims’ personal information to take benefits from those who desperately need them and are rightfully entitled to receive them.”
Sheriff Tom Bosenko, Redding Police Chief Roger Moore (whose home was destroyed in the blaze) and District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett already have vowed to prosecute anyone who tries to take advantage of victims and urged anyone who believes they may have been defrauded to call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
The hotline, which was established following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is staffed 24 hours a day. Information also may be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The announcement came the same day state Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed criminal charges against a Bay Area real estate agent and a Marin County landlord alleging price gouging during last year’s deadly Tubbs Fire.
Pamela Kelley and Scott Parke were charged with four misdemeanor counts alleging that before the fire they were offering a rental home for $4,950 a month, and that after the fire the property was offered at $6,800 a month and then, a few minutes later, at $9,500 a month.
The state’s price gouging law allows for only a 10 percent price hike once an emergency is declared, meaning the property could not be rented for more than $5,445 a month, Becerra’s office said.