Mass. Attorney General Says Mississippi Woman Took Columbia Gas Explosion Payments for Herself

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, second from left, with Gov. Charlie Baker and leaders from Andover and North Andover during a press conference in the wake of the September 2018 explosions and fires across the Merrimack Valley. (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News.)

A Jackson, Mississippi woman was recently indicted in connection with stealing more than $28,000 and the identities of four victims of the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions, while she worked as an insurance adjuster.

Attorney General Maura Healey said Monday Lashaunda Studaway was arraigned last Thursday in Essex County Superior Court on charges of four counts of identity fraud and two counts of larceny over $1,200. She is due back in court Dec. 16 for a pre-trial hearing.

According to a release from the attorney general’s office, between October and December 2018, Studaway worked as an insurance adjuster on behalf of Columbia Gas. In that role she was responsible for handling the financial claims from residents impacted by the September 2018 gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley that devastated the region, resulting in thousands of dollars in property damage and leaving thousands of residents and businesses without heat and hot water in the cold winter months. Explosions rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover and resulted in the death of an 18-year-old Lawrence man.

Healey’s release said Studaway stole $28,971 and the identities of four claimants impacted by the explosion by dispersing pre-paid debit cards, intended for claimants, to herself. Studaway would either submit false claims under a real claimant’s file or create a file using a fictitious person’s name.

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