Missouri attorney general files suit over scams after Joplin tornado

Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 5:31 p.m. CDT; updated 12:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 1, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday that he is filing suit against a Georgia man and a Puerto Rican charity for what he described as fundraising scams involving relief efforts for Joplin tornado victims.

Koster said both cases involved several thousand dollars of contributions that have not been passed on as promised to Joplin charities, churches or families since a deadly tornado hit the city May 22.

One of the lawsuits targets Steve Blood, who runs an Internet-based radio business from Thomasville, Ga. The attorney general said Blood claims to help tornado victims in Joplin and Alabama by selling "Storm-Aid" T-shirts and setting up benefit concerts, among other things. Koster said Blood has collected nearly $5,000 since the tornadoes, but that the money has gone toward his own expenses instead of tornado victims.

Blood goes by the radio name "Woody Nelson" and said he is the CEO of Georgia Triangle Broadcasting, which runs the Internet-based Cowboy Bills Radio. The company's website, viewed Thursday, included a section declaring, "Help Out Tornado and Storm Victims," with an option to buy "Storm-Aid" T-shirts for $25 or $30, depending on the shirt size.

Blood told The Associated Press that revenue from the T-shirt sales has gone toward his company's operating costs.

"Ultimately we want to help victims, but we're not saying this money is going to anybody, except that we have to raise capital," Blood said.

Blood said he attempted to arrange concerts to benefit tornado victims at two Alabama locations, but both ended up falling through because of logistical issues. He said he had conversations about a potential tornado-benefit concert in Branson, but that also did not work out.

Blood blamed several Internet rivals and former business associates for sparking the legal case against him.

"I think the attorney general is wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars," Blood said. He added: "We've done nothing wrong."

In the other lawsuit, Koster said the Alivio Foundation Inc. raised $9,700 through Internet donations that it claimed would be channeled to a Catholic church and charity to assist victims of the May 22 tornado in Joplin. But Koster said the Catholic entities had neither heard of the Alivio Foundation, based in Puerto Rico, nor received any funds from it.

A person who answered the phone Thursday at the Alivio Foundation said no one was immediately available for comment.

Koster said his lawsuits seek a court injunction against Blood and Alivio with requirements that they pay the money toward tornado relief efforts or provide restitution to donors. He said the lawsuits also seek financial penalties.

"Unfortunately, there are always those who will take advantage of unsuspecting consumers during times of tragedy," Koster said.

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