JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A New Orleans-based fundraiser has agreed to pay Missouri for using Joplin tornado relief donations to pay for clothes, veterinary visits, food and her children’s baby sitter.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced the $39,200 settlement Wednesday in Joplin. He said an investigation conducted by his office revealed Sidnay Ray-Bazan collected more than $133,000 after the deadly May 2011 tornado, but spent almost one-third of the money for personal use.
“In 2011, good-hearted people across Missouri and the nation donated money to help the citizens of Joplin recover and rebuild,” Koster said. “Unfortunately, we know that some individuals diverted charitable donations for personal gain.”
Phone numbers for Ray-Bazan’s organization, Relief Spark, and her home were disconnected.
The attorney general said Ray-Bazan transferred donations to help the southwest Missouri town into personal bank accounts and then spent the funds in restaurants, coffee shops and “upscale clothing boutiques.”
The probe also found that Relief Spark never filed as a tax-exempt charity with the federal government.
Koster said the settlement money will go to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. That foundation will then provide funds to the nonprofit group, Rebuild Joplin, to continue reconstruction. Rebuild Joplin’s website says it has rebuilt or repaired 124 homes since the tornado.
Ray-Bazan’s organization got its start raising money to rebuild New Orleans and surrounding areas after Hurricane Katrina. The group began soliciting donations to help in the Joplin relief effort after the 2011 tornado that killed 161 people.
As part of the settlement, Ray-Bazan cannot solicit charitable donations in Missouri for five years. The entire settlement is subject to approval by the Jasper County Circuit Court.
Rebuilding Joplin has become an expensive enterprise. State government expects to spend $15 million this year, partially to reimburse the federal government for its role in the tornado cleanup.
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