Red Cross Volunteer Charged With Misusing Flood Relief Vouchers
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ A Red Cross volunteer was charged with writing $30,000 in flood-relief vouchers to buy clothing and other goods for herself, friends and family.
Joan Tullock, 31, of Miami, who came here to work on flood relief, was charged Tuesday with first-degree fraud. She remained jailed Thursday on $13,000 bond.
Dale Moritz, a Polk County sheriff’s detective, said it appeared Tullock and friends used the vouchers to pay for clothing, furniture, food and possibly motel bills. Some of the items were recovered in Tullock’s motel room, he said.
″If the allegations are true, the American Red Cross is absolutely appalled at the possibility that one of its workers may have violated the trust of the Red Cross and of the American people,″ the American Red Cross said in a statement from national headquarters in Washington. ″The Red Cross will not tolerate this kind of abuse.″
The alleged fraud came to light over the weekend when a man and a woman went to Pidgeon’s Home Furnishing store, claiming they were flood victims. They tried to buy a big-screen television and other luxury items with vouchers worth about $7,000, said Jerry Knapp, a manager at the store.
The vouchers were designated for bedding and furniture, and appeared to have nonexistent addresses on them, Knapp said. He refused to sell the luxury items.
Knapp said he called the Red Cross and got in touch with Tullock. ″She said, ’Why are you hassling these people? They have been through enough,‴ Knapp said.
He said Tullock then came to his store to demand return of the vouchers, but he refused to give them up because he believed they were fraudulent.
Tullock was arrested Tuesday at the West Des Moines Red Cross office.
A warrant was issued for an alleged accomplice, Cathy Beard, 40, of Florida City, Fla. Investigators said more suspects may be sought.
Mary Bowen, American Red Cross relief operations director for the Des Moines district, said Red Cross workers were checking Tullock’s records and found she had done good work with some cases and issued valid vouchers. She had previous experience aiding victims after last year’s Hurricane Andrew.
Like all volunteers, Tullock had been screened, Bowen said. ″But we don’t have any protection against someone who decides to do something illegal.″
Bowen also said merchants are advised to double-check addresses on vouchers and to not allow substitutions.