17 September – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – A Burbank man and a Glendale woman have been charged with posing as American Red Cross volunteers and soliciting money under the false pretense that donations would assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Tino Lee, 44, and Gina Liz Nicholas, 19, were named in a criminal complaint
filed late Friday night in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Lee
and Nicholas are each charged with impersonating someone associated with the
American Red Cross for the purpose of soliciting money, a felony offense
that carries a potential penalty of five years in federal prison.
Lee and Nicholas allegedly were soliciting donations on behalf of the
American Red Cross outside an electronics store in Burbank. They were
arrested Thursday evening by officers with the Burbank Police Department
after officers determined they did not have any paperwork linking them to
the American Red Cross.
On Friday, the case was turned over the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
which confirmed that Lee and Nicholas were not acting on behalf of the
American Red Cross.
The case against Lee and Nicholas is the first federal case brought in the
nation alleging a Hurricane Katrina scam. The United States Department of
Justice recently established the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, which
is designed to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal
crimes such as charity fraud and insurance fraud; see:
“We have taken a zero-tolerance position against those who would use a
national tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina to line their pockets with money
intended for victims,” said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. “Victims
of the hurricane should know that we will do everything to ensure that aid
graciously donated by fellow Americans will reach those in need. And those
wanting to assist and lend a hand to those less fortunate should know that
any scam targeting their generosity will be shut down and those responsible
will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Officials with the American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles say the
organization rarely has individual volunteers soliciting donations outside
stores or in other public locations. When they do such solicitations it is
normally in partnership with other organizations, like the Fire Department,
and the media. Additionally, Red Cross volunteers will always offer a
receipt for cash donations, although the agency prefers that donors write
checks made out to the “American Red Cross.”
Lee and Nicholas are expected to make their initial court appearance in
federal court in downtown Los Angeles Monday afternoon. They will remain in
the custody of local authorities until Monday morning.
This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the Burbank Police Department.