CAL FIRE rehires captain who pled guilty to defrauding FEMA
Samuel Thomas Lanier’s companies submitted multiple fraudulent requests, including one for firefighter and EMT training; he faces sentencing Monday
By Dale Kasler
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A former CAL FIRE employee who’s awaiting sentencing on fraud charges was rehired by the state firefighting agency over the summer, three years after pleading guilty in the case.
Samuel Thomas Lanier pleaded guilty in 2019 to felony charges stemming from his ownership of a company that administered a pair of FEMA grants obtained by the fire chiefs associations in Shasta and Siskiyou counties.
Prosecutors say Lanier pocketed about $1.2 million of the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for himself. He admitted to seven charges of submitting false invoices to the federal government.
Lanier, 43, of Dunsmuir, was rehired in August by CAL FIRE, according to an agency email Lanier’s lawyer filed in U.S. District Court. He is a captain with the agency, according to court documents, although it wasn’t immediately clear where in the CAL FIRE system he’s been working.
Lanier could get a prison term of as much as 10 years at sentencing Monday in Sacramento, although prosecutors are asking for a term of 30 months.
Noa Oren, Lanier’s assistant federal defender, asked Judge Kimberly Mueller to place her client on probation.
“Being a firefighter and devoting himself to public service is his passion and life work. He has no criminal history, and he is unlikely to reoffend,” Oren wrote in a pre-sentencing report filed with the court.
“He is currently re-employed as a fire captain, a position that puts his talents to their highest use.”
Lanier initially worked at CAL FIRE from 1999 to 2014 before leaving to concentrate on a company he’d started called FireWhat Inc. The company created mapping systems for helping first responders navigate wildfires. FireWhat and its successor company, Cedar Flats, also administered FEMA grants that help local firefighting organizations with training.
FEMA awarded grants of $1 million apiece in 2013 to the Shasta and Siskiyou chiefs’ associations, but didn’t dole out the money all at once. Instead, Lanier’s companies periodically submitted “drawdown requests” to FEMA for the funding.
Prosecutors said Lanier’s companies submitted multiple fraudulent requests. In September 2013, for example, he asked FEMA for $109,775 for firefighter and EMT training — when in fact only $318 was spent on those services.
“Lanier defrauded FEMA of over $1.2 million — money that FEMA is unlikely to recover and could have been used to help real firefighters instead of lining Lanier’s pockets,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Alegria wrote in a pre-sentencing memo. “Lanier’s acts were not mere accounting errors or improper commingling of (funds). Instead, he blatantly created fictitious invoices and reimbursement requiests that he knew were fraudulent.”
CAL FIRE spokesman Jon Heggie said the agency had no immediate comment.
Lanier’s lawyer, Oren, couldn’t be reached for comment.