Lions Club may have been duped in charity

In what could be the first Hurricane Katrina-related fraud in the region, Craig Lions Club leaders say they think they may have been swindled after giving $1,000 to a woman who said she needed housing.

The club gave a woman a check for a rental deposit in early November, treasurer Stu Nadler said.

Club officials say they thought the woman and her family were victims of the hurricane, which devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi in September.

Nadler reported the incident to Craig police, he said. But no charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.

Lions Club President Christina Currie, who also is assistant editor at the Craig Daily Press, said the American Red Cross referred the woman to her.

The club agreed to pay the woman's rental deposit, Nadler said.

The woman was supposed to give the check from the Lions Club to a local landlord, Nadler said. But the landlord never got the check.

Nadler called the bank after the landlord contacted him and found the check had already cleared, he said.

The club thinks the woman altered the check so she could cash it, Currie said.

Asked whether the incident would make the Lions Club more cautious about donations, Nadler said he wasn't sure.

"We might do a little more investigating," Nadler said. "But I think, probably, the members assumed the Red Cross already did that."

Now, the club isn't sure the woman was a victim of the hurricane, Currie said.

If the Lions Club case proves to be fraud, it would be the first such Katrina-related deception in the region, said local Red Cross volunteer Vic Hencken.

Hencken and his wife, Flo, are volunteering with the organization in New Orleans.

The Red Cross has 1,200 reported cases of Katrina-related fraud nationwide, Red Cross spokeswoman Renita Hosler said.

About 60 percent to 70 percent of the fraud cases are under investigation by law enforcement, Hosler said.

Fraud cases as far from the Gulf Coast as Colorado aren't uncommon, Hosler said.

"It literally has been all over the country," she said.

There are two types of fraud associated with Katrina, Hosler said.

The first is accidental fraud where peopl e receive services from the association more than once, oftentimes by accident.

In those cases, the organization gives people a chance to pay restitution before bringing charges, Hosler said.

The other type is intentional fraud where people knowingly deceive the organization. The Red Cross takes those incidents very seriously, Hosler said.

"We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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