Civil suit filed 9/11 rescue fraud case
By Lisa Coryell, Special to the Times, February 6, 2009
Scott Shields, the West Windsor man imprisoned for bilking the federal government out of funding meant for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, now faces civil fines and penalties for his crime.
In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of New York, U.S. attorneys are seeking undisclosed damages from Shields, whose dramatic stories of rescuing victims in New York following the World Trade Center attacks and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina have largely been debunked.
In New York Shields claimed to have worked with his dog, Bear, to sniff out people trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center buildings, but an officer who led K-9 rescue at the scene later said Shields’ dog was not properly trained and the two were ordered off the site.
Shields’ sister, Patricia Shields, is named as a co-defendant in the civil suit, which seeks damages and penalties for false claims, fraud, unjust enrichment and mistaken payment.
The government wants a jury trial to set damages and penalties.
“Scott Shields and Patricia Shields knowingly, or in deliberate ignorance of or in reckless disregard of the truth, presented, or caused to be presented, to an officer, employee or agent of the United States, false and fraudulent claims for payment or approval by submitting false or fraudulent applications to (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for (Mortgage and Rental Assistance) funds,” the suit alleges.
Shields and his sister received $38,906 from FEMA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $10,553 from the American Red Cross after making false claims to the agencies in 2002 that they lived near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan.
The siblings were indicted for theft of government funds, mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States. In October they were both sentenced to eight months in federal prison and ordered to repay the ill-gotten money.
The pair actually lived in Greenwich, Conn., at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and the FEMA money was meant for rental or mortgage assistance to people who lived near the World Trade Center site.
Although the Shieldses later moved to Lower Manhattan, the Red Cross assistance money was meant for victims who lived below Canal Street at the time of the attacks.
Court papers show the Shields siblings did not move to Lower Manhattan until October 2001.
Moreover, court records show the Shieldses were evicted from their Connecticut residence for nonpayment of rent, never used any of the FEMA money for their Manhattan apartment, and that they were “entirely delinquent” in rent from the time they moved in until they were evicted from that residence as well.
Scott Shields later moved to West Windsor.
Shields, who gave himself the rank of “captain,” had wowed the media and the public with his dramatic tales of mass rescues in New Orleans in 2005, and of his heroic K-9 work with his beloved Bear after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some of the stories appeared in The Times.
The stories about Bear, who Shields said died in 2003 due to 9/11 injuries, led to the creation of a charitable foundation in the dog’s name and a book about his exploits as well. But the accounts eventually were called into question by many authorities and animal rescue specialists.
For example, Shields had claimed he and Bear found the most victims during the rescue efforts following 9/11.
But in 2007, retired New York City Police Lt. Dan Donadio, a former K-9 handler whose teams led the Ground Zero recovery efforts, said he told Shields to leave the site during the initial hours of the recovery effort because Bear was not a trained rescue dog and might mislead emergency workers.
Shields was also suspected of having manufactured a letter from the governor of Louisiana inviting him to lead search and rescue efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The letter was posted on Shields’ website but was discredited by the governor’s office.
To learn more about this saga from its beginnings, just go to TRADING IN ON TRAGEDY FOR FAME: Succumbing to the Lure of Truthiness.
And, to see the series of blog posts on this pitiful man and his sister, just click here.