California Firefighter Sentenced in SAFER Grant Fraud Case

A firefighter who served 15 years with Cal Fire before retiring in 2014 and had recently been rehired as a captain, has been sentenced to one-year and a day in prison for defrauding the federal government while administering a SAFER grant. Samuel Thomas Lanier, 40, pled guilty in 2019 to seven counts of major fraud, and was sentenced yesterday.

Lanier retired in 2014 to start his own business, which led him to serve as a grant administrator for the Siskiyou County Fire Chiefs Association and the Shasta County Fire Chiefs Association. Each organization had been granted over $1 million each under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program.

According to a statement released by U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert:

  • Lanier… was hired by the Fire Chiefs Associations to administer these grants.
  • In this capacity, Lanier knowingly submitted to FEMA false and fraudulent reimbursement requests, seeking and obtaining reimbursement for goods and services that were not, in fact, actually obtained on behalf of the fire associations.
  • According to court documents, Lanier misappropriated over $1.2 million by both submitting false reimbursement requests to FEMA and diverting additional funds that should have been used to support the firefighters.
  • “This fraud scheme siphoned vital federal funds from fire departments supporting communities devastated by wildfires. This sentencing sends a clear message that the theft of federal funds meant to support our front line firefighters and first responders will not be tolerated,” stated Dr. Joseph V. Cuffari, Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Lanier was offered a captain’s position with Cal Fire in August. This status of that job offer would appear to be in doubt in light of the sentence. More on that here.

According to the US Attorney’s Office web site, Lanier is scheduled to appear in court for a restitution hearing on December 12, 2022. Here is a link to the press release.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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