Phony ‘victim’ of Joplin tornado admits fraud

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A Springfield man has admitted bilking southwest Missouri businesses out of more than $160,000 with bad checks he passed by claiming he was a victim of the May tornado that decimated Joplin.

Justin R. Compton, 31, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Springfield to one count of bank fraud as part of a plea agreement, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips said in statement.

Compton admitted opening an account at Regions Bank in Ozark two days before the May 22 tornado, which killed 161 people and demolished hundreds of homes and businesses in the southwest Missouri city. He deposited no money, however, and told the bank he would set up direct deposit of his paychecks.

Compton admitted to buying goods, such as furniture, and services from dozens of businesses after the tornado hit by writing hundreds checks on the Regions Bank account and on other similar bank account he set up in the area. He admitted writing 225 checks on the accounts, with a total in losses of $160,672. Phillips said there were more than 50 victims.

Compton said he persuaded businesses in Greene, Jasper, Barry, Lawrence and Taney counties to accept the checks by falsely claiming he and his family suffered losses in the tornado and that he was an Army sergeant.

When the checks began to be returned for insufficient funds, the complaint said Compton lied and told a representative of Regents Bank that his family had been victims of the tornado and they needed the money to get by.

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