In a press release issued Thursday by the Vermillion Police Department, Douglas Pearson, 36, and Briggitte Burrow, 41, have been arrested and charged with embezzlement of property received in trust.
According to the police department, Pearson contacted a local radio station requesting a public service announcement soliciting donations for a family relocating to Vermillion from the area recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The radio station ran numerous public service announcements directing donations to Pearson. Vermillion police later received information questioning the legitimacy of Pearson's story. An investigation by the VPD revealed there was no family relocating to Vermillion, as described by Pearson.
The police department seized enough furniture to furnish a two-bedroom home, including beds, televisions, refrigerators and other furnishing, along with clothing food and even wrapped Christmas presents donated in response to Pearson's announcement. Many of the household furnishings were new items donated by local businesses.
The South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation and the Clay County Sheriff's Office assisted in the investigation, the press release said.
Vermillion Police Chief Art Mabry cautioned the public to be sure any organization claiming to offer relief to disaster victims is legitimate. "The good news is, these events bring out the best in people," Mabry said in a press release. "The bad news is, it also brings out the worst in people. Don't allow an isolated incident like this to prevent you from helping others in need."
The Vermillion Police Department and DCI are continuing the investigation. Police are asking anyone who made donations to Pearson, or may have additional information, to contact the VPD at (605) 677-7070.