In Your Corner: Former disaster relief director under investigation

BETHEL ACRES, OK. – Earlier this year our In Your Corner hotline started ringing off the hook with complaints against Tonia Allen.

Last year, Allen started doing relief work in Bethel Acres, an area devastated by a massive tornado.

Dozens of families say Allen and her charity, God’s Hand Ups, promised to help them rebuild their homes.

Randy Nance says he was suspicious of Allen from the start.

He says, “She told everybody she was going to build them a new house [and] that God had spoken to her from Texas.”

The Champion family and others signed a building contract with Allen.

They paid her $5000 of their FEMA money up front and they got almost nothing.

“She said it would already be spent on supplies, so we wouldn’t be able to get it back,” Clarence Champion says. “We go two vanities out of it.”

Some families gave Allen even more, up to $15,000.

We want to know where the money is.

Earlier this year we confronted Allen.

“Our contracts are clear. They’re concise,” she said. “We are building houses. They’re being built slow because we’re building on volunteers.”

She refused to tell us how many contracts she has with tornado victims.

Here’s where it gets really sketchy.

Allen told us she was no longer running God’s Hand Ups.

She said she was the new regional director for America’s Disaster Relief, an out of state charity doing disaster relief work in our state.

“We are a legal 501c3. We’ve helped people with electric bills. We’ve bought food for people,” Allen says. “As long as we’re doing that and keeping accountability of every penny spent, we’re not breaking the law.

Now there are new allegations being raised by that second charity, America’s Disaster Relief and it’s CEO, Jan France.

France tells the In Your Corner team several of the organization’s bank accounts are overdrawn and $70,000 is missing.

Allen says, “If I was taking money and running like the rumor is, we wouldn’t still be building houses.” After our investigation started the charity fired Allen as its regional director and there’s more.

We did some checking and Allen goes by a number of aliases.

She has criminal convictions in east Texas for DUI, theft, and writing hot checks.

Allen says, “I don’t think you need to be digging in my personal business.”

One day she was in Texas, the next entering into contracts with tornado victims in Oklahoma.

To this day Tonia Allen stands behind her word and her work.

She says she helped build two homes with charitable donations.

When we went looking for satisfied customers we found more victims, like Gaylord Sanders.

He’s still living in a donated trailer that was given to him by another organization.

He says, “I worked all my life and don’t have anything to speak of.”

Just like the Champion family, this veteran says he thought his down payment would go towards supplies to build his new home.

“If you want to be friends with me, bring my money back, Tonia.”

Allen says she was transparent with all the families and that Sanders attended every meeting and was made aware of the stipulations of the contract.

Allen refuses to give any refunds.

She’s under investigation in Pottawatomie County, but hasn’t been formally charged with any crimes related to these new allegations.

She had until last Friday to hand over receipts and contracts.

We know she missed that deadline.

We’ll keep you posted on the case.