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Contractor charged with impersonating FEMA officer

Photo by Steve Schulz Gerald Nelms was arrested June 23 on Jefferson Street by Wadena Police for allegedly posing as a FEMA and OSHA officer, while trying to solicit business for his construction firm. Nelms denied the charges.

A Minneapolis man was charged June 25 in Wadena County District Court with impersonating an officer and unfair trade practices for allegedly posing as a FEMA and OSHA officer, a charge he denied.

According to court documents, on June 22 Wadena police received complaints from the public that Gerald Bruce Nelms, 33, was in the hardest-hit areas of Wadena after the June 17 tornado, representing himself as a FEMA agent. Police spoke to some of the people who had been approached and retrieved the business card, which they said had no affiliation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Court documents said on June 23, Nelms also allegedly represented himself as an agent of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and asked business owners if they had lists of damaged properties in town. When he was asked for OSHA identification, Nelms was unable to produce credentials, the court complaint said.

According to court records, Nelms told officers he was "not technically" a FEMA representative, and then officers ordered him to leave the city. But later in the day, police learned he had since approached at least two more businesses trying to solicit contracting jobs. He was arrested.

Nelms was charged with two crimes: impersonating an officer and deceptive or unfair trade practices -- elderly or handicapped victims. It is illegal in the city of Wadena to solicit business door to door before obtaining a peddler's licence, court documents said.

Nelms was released on his own recognizance.

Nelms told the Pioneer Journal that he denied any wrongdoing in the case, and said he has put a lot of effort into building up his name and his business name.

"I've worked 10 years to make that name wholesome and righteous," he said.

An omnibus hearing was scheduled for July 27.