Authorities deal with criminals, fraud at Camp Gruber

Saturday, September 10th 2005, 11:33 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Authorities are finding gang members, prison parolees and sex offenders among the law-abiding citizens who were evacuated from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to a National Guard training center near Muskogee.

``We have a colorful array of people here,'' Lt. Pete Norwood, spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and coordinator of security for Camp Gruber, said Friday.

``Most of the people here are great people. But we know some of these people come from a criminal element, and although we're probably only talking about 1 percent, we know they're here,'' he said. ``This is just like any other city.''

Twelve people who either are registered sex offenders or have been charged with a related crime have been discovered, Norwood said. Fourteen New Orleans-area gang members have been identified through tattoos and interviews by gang task forces of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa police departments. All parties have been photographed.

Also on Friday, Salvation Army officials reported a fraudulent e-mail was circulated via the Internet soliciting funds for the disaster relief organization. The e-mail,, isn't a valid Salvation Army e-mail address, officials said.

The e-mail suggests it's from The Salvation Army's national headquarters and instructs donors to give donations through money transfer, mail or credit card, officials said. The Salvation Army doesn't ask for credit card information to be sent to the organization via e-mail.

The fraudulent e-mail has been reported to the FBI and is under investigation, officials said.

Ponca City emergency management officials also reported that a local man received an American Red Cross credit card after fraudulently reporting he was from New Orleans. They discovered his claim was false when he was recognized as a Ponca City resident while shopping at a local store, officials said.

Meanwhile, the number of evacuees at Camp Gruber continued to dwindle. Nearly 300 survivors have left the camp after being reunited with family or friends, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said. The department said the center now houses 1,167 evacuees, although other numbers of 1,271 and 1,321 have been reported.

School officials have enrolled 95 students: 11 for Tahlequah, 70 for Muskogee and 14 for Braggs, they said.

As for the security challenges, officials dealt with some gang members, including one known as ``Big Smoke,'' by giving them tickets back to Louisiana.

``We patted him down everywhere he went,'' Norwood said. ``And he made no secret about who he was, and he operated by intimidating those around him. People were scared of him.''

Officers said the gangs had begun to stake out ``territories'' within the camp barracks, intimidating evacuees and, in some cases, stealing from them.

``They would go around and take people's medications, and then sell it back to them,'' Oklahoma City police Sgt. Jason Samuel said. ``We've put a stop to that.''

Registered sex offenders have been allowed to remain for now.

``In one case, we had a man who is taking care of his elderly mother and he doesn't want to leave here,'' Norwood said. ``But we have him registered ...''

Norwood said officials also have found people in camp who were locals trying to take advantage of the services.

``We also arrested another local man outside the gate for peddling drugs. Entrepreneurs will be entrepreneurs,'' he said, shaking his head.

Hundreds lined up for their Camp Gruber and Oklahoma identification cards on Friday.

``This needs to be done,'' said Eddie Porte, 31, of New Orleans. ``You can't cash a check or get a job or anything without an ID card.''