Friday, January 26, 2007
Natural disasters often bring out the best in people, but the lure of easy money in the aftermath can sure bring out the worst. An indictment in the Southern District of Texas charges five people with a scheme to obtain over 100 payments from FEMA for relief from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. According to a press release (here):
According to the indictment, the five defendants, along with co-conspirators Curtis Caldwell and Ernest Tutt, Jr., who have previously been charged with mail fraud in connection with their filing of fraudulent FEMA claims, conspired to file 103 fraudulent FEMA claims for Hurricane Rita and Katrina disaster assistance between September 5, 2005 and June 14, 2006. Octavia Caldwell allegedly provided the other defendants with addresses in New Orleans and Lake Charles–addresses that sometimes did not exist–to use in filing numerous FEMA claims even though all the defendants resided in Harris County when Katrina and Rita made landfall. The defendants used social security numbers belonging to other individuals, who had no knowledge of the scheme, in their claims to avoid detection. The alleged scheme also involved the defendants using different middle initials when filing their claims, and directing funds be delivered via the U. S. Mail to the “current mailing address” included in the claim, which was frequently changed in an attempt to conceal the filing of multiple claims by the same person. The indictment further alleges the defendants used fraudulent Louisiana drivers licenses when cashing the fraudulently obtained assistance checks at various Houston area locations.
All told, the scheme is alleged to have bilked the government out of almost $150,000. A lot of effort goes into these schemes, and you wonder how much is not being caught by investigators and going to scam artists who see a quick buck in a widespread tragedy. (ph)