SEVIER COUNTY, TENN. - Several people face charges in Sevier County for an alleged scheme to get money from the Dollywood Foundation that was meant for victims of the November fire disaster.
Newly unsealed indictments obtained by 10News show the defendants used other people's addresses in Gatlinburg and Sevierville to get the grant money from the My People Fund, set up by entertainer Dolly Parton after a Nov. 28, 2016, fire swept into Gatlinburg and other parts of Sevier County.
According to documents, they were ineligible for the aid, which was being offered to help people who lost jobs and homes in the disaster. They submitted other false information to buttress their claims for money, documents state.
"During the course of the My People Fund distribution, there were a very small number of suspected cases where we felt like things weren't adding up," said David Dotson, Dollywood Foundation president.
Gatlinburg Police Department Chief Randy Brackins told 10News the department is investigating other scams that may be related to this one. Other agencies are involved in the investigation, he said.
A blaze that began as arson Nov. 23, 2016, at Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park moved into Gatlinburg. Other fires also broke out, caused by downed power lines and driven by high winds.
More than 2,400 buildings were damaged or destroyed in Sevier County. The estimated damage was more than a billion dollars.
Fourteen people died as a result of the fires.
Gatalinburg police Detective Rodney Burns led the investigation.
Among those charged with money laundering and criminal conspiracy are Chad Chambers, Debra Kay Catlett and Rocco Boscaglia.
Catlett and Chambers also are charged with theft over $1,000. Boscaglia and Chambers also are charged with theft over $500.
Documents identify others involved in the scam as Esther Pridemore and Ammie Lyons. They were being held in Jefferson County.
Brackins said two more cases were presented to a grand jury this week.
The scam went on from December to June of this year, the indictments state.
Chambers, for example, got a $1,000 check in December from the My People Fund, the indictment states. He also got two $1,000 checks in February, according to the indictment.
Catlett in turn got the two February checks made out to Chambers, according to records.
Boscaglia got a $1,000 check in December, according to the indictment.
Chambers is to be arraigned Sept. 25.
Catlett and Boscaglia have plea dates Oct. 16, according to the Sevier County Circuit Court Clerk's office.
Boscaglia and Chambers were being held in lieu of bond. Catlett was free on $10,000 bond.
A Sevier County grand jury returned the indictments in July but they were sealed until defendants could be served.
None of the defendants are associated with the Dollywood Foundation itself. A foundation spokesman confirmed earlier this month that it had been cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
The foundation's My People Fund has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire victims to help them recover. The group has a two-step verification process to prevent fraud, Dotson said. They would first verify property was destroyed, then work to link it to the claimant.
"If there wasn't sufficient written documentation, we often called landlords, and calling landlords in a couple occasions, we we realized the landlord didn't know who the people were," he said.
"It's just part the human condition," said Dotson. "Whenever anything good is happening, there's always a few bad apples. It's part of life, part of reality."
But Dotson said while they cooperate with law enforcement, he wants to focus more on the hundreds of people helped by the fund.
"It's not the story of the ones that misused it, it's about the people that benefited from it," he said.
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