JOPLIN, MO.--- Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has recovered $39,000 of money from a donation scam related to rebuilding efforts in Joplin. The Attorney General's Office found that a woman working for a New Orleans based fundraiser had been taking donated money for the Joplin Tornado Relief Fund and using it for personal use. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has recovered $39,000 from a donation scam. The money was intended to help the organization Rebuild Joplin with recovery efforts after the May 2011 tornado, but instead it ended up in one woman's pocket.
"For Rebuild Joplin, it's reassuring. We have six projects that are lined up, but we don't have funding for them. So this money is going to go directly to them. These are homeowners that are not yet returned to a safe and sustainable home from the May 22nd tornado," said Thomas Corley, Rebuild Joplin Executive Director.
According to the investigation, Sidney Ray-Bazan raised more than $133,000 through the organization Relief Spark. Findings from the Missouri Attorney General's Office, reveals that $39,200 of that money was being routed into her personal bank account.
"We were tipped off about irregularities at Relief Spark. There were volunteers, who were helping Relief Spark collect funds, that became suspicious that the relief funds were not getting to the places that they were supposed to get to," said Chris Koster, Missouri Attorney General.
Documents show she made frequent cash withdrawals and transfers to her personal account from the charity's bank account. Koster's office discovered the donated money was spent at New Orleans restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, and even for her children's babysitter. Today officials focused on the fact the money will be returned to help Joplin residents.
"I think today's action closes the book on Ms. Ray-Bazan. She did do some good things in the community. I think that the work here was sloppy. She took some of the resources for herself. And I felt that the just thing to do was simply to make things right," said Koster.
Attorney General Koster says the $39,000 check will go to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which will in turn provide the funds to Rebuild Joplin. As for Ray- Bazan, in addition to repaying the funds, she has also agreed not to solicit any more money for any charitable purpose in the State of Missouri for the next five years. In exchange for this agreement, Koster says he will not prosecute this matter any further, he just wanted to focus on getting the money back.