Mo. AG files two suits against Joplin tornado fraud schemes
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) - Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced lawsuits on Thursday against an allegedly fraudulent charitable organization and a Georgia man who took advantage of the Joplin tornado.
Koster alleges that Alivio Foundation Inc., based in Puerto Rico, and Steve Blood, of Georgia, fraudulently solicited donations through the internet, claiming to help victims of the May 22 Joplin, Mo., tornado.
"Unfortunately, there are always those who will take advantage of unsuspecting consumers during times of tragedy," Koster said. "Protecting the citizens of Joplin is this office's number one goal, and we will be aggressive in going after those who engage in charity scams or other fraudulent behavior affecting Joplin's recovery."
Shortly after the tornado, Alivio allegedly started soliciting donations through a PayPal link on its website and through Crowdrise, an online donation conduit. Alivio claimed that the donations would be used to assist survivors and relatives of Joplin tornado victims. It listed Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri and the St. Peter The Apostle Catholic Church as the intended beneficiaries. To encourage donations, Alivio posted pictures of the Joplin devastation and links to various news stories about the tornado on its website.
Koster alleges that neither Catholic Charities or the church had ever heard of the Alivio Foundation and that no area churches received funds from it. There is no record of the foundation giving funds to any organization helping Joplin residents, though the company's website reports that it raised $9,700 on Crowdrise.
Steve Blood, who runs an internet radio business through three websites, claimed to help victims of the Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin tornados by selling "Storm-Aid" t-shirts, setting up benefit concerts, offering concert sponsorships for sale and providing an option to donate to storm relief efforts using a PayPal link. Blood allegedly collected nearly $5,000 from the account since the tornados, with none of it going to help tornado victims. It was instead allegedly used for Blood's personal expenses.
Koster is asking that the court issue an injunction prohibiting Alivio and Blood from further violations of the Merchandising Practices Act and to require that all funds collected go to the intended recipients. In addition, Koster is asking the court to require each of the defendants to provide full restitution to donors, pay a civil penalty of $1,000 per violation of the law, pay all court costs and pay a penalty to the state of 10 percent of the total restitution.