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Man, brother indicted in scheme to steal more than $800K from state during 2020 hurricanes

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 4:19 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2021 at 4:26 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A man and his twin brother have been indicted for a scheme to defraud the state out of more than $800,000 during the 2020 hurricane season according to prosecutors in West Baton Rouge Parish.

Thomas McCormick and his twin brother Robert McCormick have been indicted on several charges including racketeering, fraud and money laundering.

Robert worked for the State Fire Marshal’s Office during the storms and according to the indictment, the brothers allegedly created some companies and worked with other existing companies to do business with the state.

One of the accused men spoke exclusively to WAFB’s Scottie Hunter as he was hauled away in handcuffs late Friday evening.

Scottie: “What do you have to say about the charges against you?”

McCormick: “Don’t believe everything you hear sir.”

Scottie: “Did you have anything to say besides don’t believe everything you hear?”

McCormick: “No sir. Obviously these situations are all tough so the lawyer said don’t say anything.. we’ll wait and have our day in court but I just ask that you reserve judgement and don’t believe everything you read okay.”

The pair was arrested almost immediately after they were indicted in court- accused of heading up an elaborate series of schemes to steal money from the state during the height of hurricane season last year. West Baton Rouge District Attorney Tony Clayton calls it egregious.

“The time that they did this. The fact that it happened during a time when we’re suffering one of the worst storms in the history of the state.. I mean the evidence will show that this was an egregious act,” Clayton added.

From August 2020 to April 2021 prosecutors allege the men used their positions to steal the money and cover it up. Robert, who worked for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, allegedly used his role to bill the state for countless items related to relief and recovery. That money was then funneled directly into three different companies that then paid the funds to his brother Thomas and the McCormick Law Firm. Prosecutors say they were able to unravel the alleged fraud thanks to the help of the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

“They uncovered the scheme several months ago and they contact us and they went undercover and they continued to monitor it,” Clayton added.

The pair, along with at least five others, face money laundering, racketeering and other charges tied to the alleged plot that was uncovered in West Baton Rouge. In one instance the brothers are accused of buying 16,000 water bottles at 13 cents apiece and then selling them to the state for $1.50 per bottle. Prosecutors say that one scheme allowed the men to allegedly steal more than $180,000 from the state that records show they used for things like car notes, tuition and credit card payments.

The alleged scheme involved three West Baton Rouge businesses; Gifts Unlimited, Westside Services and Emergency Logistics Solutions. The five other people involved in the alleged plot include Phillip Sibley, Stacy Smith, Dean Smith, Bernard Christmas and Ava Richardson.

“You know when there’s smoke there’s fire so once they started looking into it you saw there was an actual fire and that fire was really burning,” said prosecutor Ronald Gathe Jr. “We’re not going to stand for it in this district.. we’re not going to stand for it and if we have to go to trial and if we have to make an example then that’s what we’re going to do.”

One example of the alleged wrongdoing is that they would personally buy water bottles for 13 cents a bottle and then resell it to the state for approximately $1.50, drastically marking up the price and pocketing the profits from the sale.

According to court records that money was then funneled back to the brothers through payments to the McCormick Law Firm.

District Attorney Tony Clayton tells the 9News Investigators the 8-month scheme unraveled when it was flagged by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office.

Arrest warrants have been issued for the two brothers along with the other people they worked with to allegedly steal the money.

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office released the following statement:

“We were angered and frustrated to be informed that our agency’s genuine effort to help the people of Louisiana, during one of the most challenging years in this state’s history, was allegedly taken advantage of. We immediately conducted an internal investigation which has, so far, uncovered policy violations by former employee Robert McCormick, along with former reserve deputy Stacy Smith. McCormick, assigned to the agency’s emergency services division, resigned while on administrative leave, in lieu of termination, prior to the completion of the investigation. Stacy Smith’s reserve designation was separated from the agency. The internal investigation has also, so far, revealed related and unrelated policy violations by McCormick’s supervisor, and Stacy Smith’s husband, former employee Dean Smith, who also resigned while on administrative leave prior to the conclusion of the investigation. The internal investigation is ongoing, but being finalized. We continue to review internal controls while we stand in support of the efforts of 18th Judicial District Attorney Tony Clayton, as well as the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, who initiated an investigation in May at the request of the governor’s office. All agencies involved are committed to obtaining full restitution for the people of Louisiana. However, this should not diminish the dedicated work of the countless other State Fire Marshal employees who conducted themselves as true public servants during the state’s critical times of need.”

Everyone arrested in the case are set to be held without bond for the time being. A judge is set to decide a bond at a hearing scheduled for Monday, July 12.

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