I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: Multiple allegations of fraud after train accident

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

BARTOW, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The checks Norfolk Southern started handing out to people in the evacuation zone were supposed to cover things like gas or hotel rooms. Instead, quite a few crooks could be cashing in.

For days, News 12 showed you a big line in a small town where Norfolk Southern temporarily set up shop. People waited in line for hours for the chance to get a check.

Robert Morris: "Well, I went over there and stood in line. Me and my family.”

Robert Morris was making moonshine when he sat down for an interview, but he doesn't just run whiskey. As Bartow's mayor, he runs the town.

As a firefighter, he ran to the derailment.

Robert Morris: "Yes, I did breathe the chemicals in. I did not have the amount of exposure that those deputies had. They were in the cloud a lot longer than some of us firemen were."

Lately, there's another cloud hanging over the Jefferson County Emergency Services building, and this one has to so with reimbursements.

Robert Morris: "People think that they're going to swindle people or do whatever it is to get money from somebody that's here to help our community. That's here to help our residents."

Multiple sources tell our I-TEAM they believe there have been 80 to 90 cases of fraud so far, some involving social security cards, which is likely why a sign now hangs on the wall warning you "risk prosecution."
We're told others went through the line more than once to get more than one check. Then, there's document fraud. Mayor Morris believes he took a call about it at City Hall.

Robert Morris: "She said she needed a water bill for such and such address on Jordan Circle. I looked in our system. We don't even service an address that she gave me. So, there you go again. Somebody trying to defraud the railroad with false information to tell them that they live here when, in all actuality, they don't."

So far, no arrests have been made and the sheriff tells News 12 no one has called him yet to officially investigate.

Mayor Morris hopes this story is a warning.

Robert Morris: "I mean, I wouldn't go to Augusta and try and reap the benefit of an accident over there. I didn't go to Graniteville, South Carolina. I mean, are these people out there that hard up for a dollar? It's just ridiculous."
Meredith Anderson: "It's also a crime."
Robert Morris: "It is a crime. It sure is. But I bet you $500,000 and my next 36 paychecks you won't see anybody prosecuted over it."

News 12 asked the Sheriff about possible charges. He says they would likely be misdemeanors with no jail time.

A source with Norfolk Southern confirms this is on their radar. The Jefferson County EMA Director also confirms he is aware of these allegations. He calls it "an on-going investigation."