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Five Charged in Alleged Dolly Parton Wildfire Relief Fund Scam

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Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Five people have been charged with multiple crimes after they were alleged to have concocted an elaborate scheme to defraud Dolly Parton‘s charity fund devoted to wildfire relief in Tennessee.

USA Today reports that Debra Kay Catlett, her son Chad Alan Chambers, Rocco Boscalia, Ammie Lyons and Esther Pridemore are charged in an indictment handed up by a grand jury earlier this year in a conspiracy to defraud the My People Fund. Parton founded the charity in November of 2016 to help assist residents in Sevier County, Tenn., who were impacted and displaced by the wildfires that swept the area around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, near where Parton grew up and where she owns a number of attractions, including Dollywood.

The indictment points to Chambers as the mastermind of the scam, which he allegedly planned using his mother’s database of rental properties that she built up while working as a photographer for real estate publications in Sevier County.

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Her database of rental cabins contained addresses and owners’ names, and the alleged scammers used that information to identify cabins that had burned and used property tax records to draw up fake leases on which they forged the owners’ signatures. According to the indictment, they then used the forged leases to obtain temporary driver’s licenses with those addresses using a service the Tennessee Department of Safety established to help wildfire victims who lost their licenses in the fire, and then presented those licenses and leases to the My People Fund as proof they had been displaced by the wildfires so they could collect funds.

Records show that two of the alleged scammers didn’t even live in Sevier County, and a third was in jail at the time. The alleged scam netted $12,000 before it was discovered, according to the report. Dollywood Foundation President David Dotson says the My People Fund stopped accepting temporary licenses as proof when it became clear something was amiss.

“No one had to prove anything to get the temporary driver’s licenses,” Dotson said. “We started having suspicions.”

“It’s unfortunate but when something good happens, there’s always a handful who want to exploit things,” Dotson adds. “They went through extremely elaborate means.”

The alleged conspirators are facing charges including money laundering, criminal conspiracy and felony theft. An arraignment has not been set.

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