Dolly Parton is known for her big voice and her even bigger heart. In the wake of the Gatlinburg, Tennessee wildfires, Parton was taken advantage of in the worst way possible.
Reports from Knoxville News Sentinel confirm that five people were involved in a scheme that allowed them to take advantage of a fund set up by Parton. The fund was designed to provide aid for the people who were affected by the horrific fires. Parton set up the fund after the wildfires claimed the lives of 14 people, and left thousands of people homeless.
A mother named Debra Kay Catlett and her son, Chad Alan Chambers, were two of the five individuals involved in this scam. The other three individuals are close to the mother-son pair, and their names are Rocco Bascalia, Ammie Lyons, and Esther Pridemore.
The group was charged by the Sevier County grand jury. The main charge is for conspiracy to defraud the Dollywood Foundation’s My People Fund.
The news came from David Dotson, who is the president of the Dollywood Foundation, who also claimed that the foundation contributed $9 million to 900 families within six months of the fires.
Dotson clarified that the suspects were part of the original 900 families who received help. It seems that they received money for help after the fires, but later decided it would be more lucrative to try and defraud the foundation.
An investigation was started by Gatlinburg Police Department Detective, Rodney Burns, which looked into allegations of scamming within the foundation. It was not long before a startling trend started to take shape.
The investigation revealed that Chambers was the “mastermind” behind the scam, though his mother’s database that contained rental property helped the crime come to fruition. The group made $12,000 by the time it was all said and done.
Catlett, the mother, was a photographer who took pictures for a real estate publication in the area. She had access to all of the rental cabins in the area — that included addresses, and the names of the property owners.
The five alleged criminals were getting fraudulent IDs made in “good faith,” claiming that they had lost everything after the fires. They were using the names and addresses of people in the rental properties to get the IDs fabricated. They went through the effort to find the cabins that burned down, and used those addresses specifically.
These IDs could — and likely were — being used in bad faith by many, and so the foundation stopped accepting them as proof of displacement from the wildfires. “No one had to prove anything to get the temporary driver’s licenses,” Dotson confirmed.
Now, the group is facing charges that include money laundering, criminal conspiracy, and felony theft. More crimes may be unearthed as we are leading up to the court date. Suffice it to say, if these criminals are found guilty, they will surely pay for their crimes against a foundation that was just trying to do the right thing for families suffering from a horrific disaster. These people are sickening.