Dunsmuir man pleads guilty to FEMA fraud

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The former CEO of the Dunsmuir tech company FireWhat pleaded guilty on Monday to seven counts of FEMA fraud, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice.

Samuel Thomas Lanier, age 40 of Dunsmuir, is accused of 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, the release states.

The fraud occurred from approximately June 2013 to March 2018, according to court documents.

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 over $1 million, the release states.

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.

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,” the Justice Department said. “In so doing, Lanier caused a gross loss to the United States of over $500,000.”

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 US Attorney Amy Schuller Hitchcock is prosecuting the case.

Lanier is scheduled to be sentenced by US District Judge Kimberly Mueller on September 16. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10 million fine. The actual sentence, however, 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.

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.