Former FireWhat CEO charged with FEMA fraud

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The CEO of the now-closed Dunsmuir company FireWhat has agreed to plead guilty to seven counts of major fraud relating to FEMA grant funds he administered for the Siskiyou and Shasta county fire chiefs associations.

Sam Lanier, age 40 of Dunsmuir, faces 10 years in prison and a $10 million fine, according to information released last week by the US Attorney’s Office.

According to court documents, from approximately June 2013 to March 2018, Lanier “engaged in a scheme to defraud the United States by submitting, or causing to be submitted, false reimbursement requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in connection with federal grants awarded to Siskiyou and Shasta county fire chiefs associations to assist them in recruiting and training new firefighters,” according to a press release.

In June 2013 and June 2014, respectively, the Siskiyou and Shasta county fire chiefs associations were awarded grants as part of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. Each grant was more than $1 million.

The purpose of these grants was to assure that communities have adequate protection from fire-related hazards, and to help the recipients attain and maintain 24-hour staffing, the US Attorney’s office reported.

Lanier was hired by the fire chiefs associations to administer these grants.

“In this capacity, Lanier knowingly submitted to FEMA false and fraudulent reimbursement requests, seeking and obtaining reimbursement for goods and services that were not, in fact, actually obtained on behalf of the fire associations. In so doing, Lanier caused a gross loss to the United States of over $500,000,” the release states.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Major Frauds & Corruption Unit of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Schuller Hitchcock is prosecuting the case.

“The Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General in partnership with the Department of Justice is committed to identifying and investigating fraud schemes and corrupt activities that pose significant risk and major financial impact to DHS and its components, including FEMA. This fraud scheme siphoned vital funds from a federal program that supports local fire departments to serve their communities,” said James E. Long, Special Agent in Charge, Major Frauds and Corruption Unit, DHS OIG. “Fraud perpetrated against FEMA is detrimental to our nation’s infrastructure and safety, especially from programs that support front line firefighters and first responders.”

Lanier’s actual sentence “will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables,” according to the release.

FireWhat was founded in 2010 “to bring innovation to the technology-deprived industry of wildfire response” and provided custom GIS technology tools to map and track assets in and out of the field.

Lanier stepped down as CEO of FireWhat in August, 2017 and soon afterward the company closed its doors.