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Woman faces up to 20 years for fraud on disaster relief organization

Last month, a Slidell woman who apparently lost her job as a cook at a seafood restaurant as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of wire fraud. According to prosecutors in the case, she admitted to sending false earnings statements to a disaster assistance organization in exchange for money.

The 36-year-old woman now faces up to 20 years in prison, as well as three years of supervised release and up to a $250,000 fine when at sentencing. The claim was filed in September 2010 with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, an organization that dispensed disaster assistance funds to those affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Houston was accused of wiring a fraudulent earning statement to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, claiming to have lost $8,640 due to the disaster.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, say prosecutors, paid Houston $5,900 for her claim, which she later cashed and spent. The Federal Bureau of Investigation later pursued the case and brought it to federal court along with the National Center for Disaster Fraud. This group encourages anyone with knowledge of fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement allegations related to disaster relief operations to report what they know.

Fraud charges comes in a variety of forms, including bankruptcy fraud, tax fraud, identity theft, mail fraud, insurance fraud, credit card fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud. By the time most people are hit with fraud charges, there is usually a good deal of evidence working against them. It is important for defendants to start early on in building up a defense case and looking for potential weaknesses in the case against them.

Because each case carries its own challenges, and because the approach that works in one case will not necessarily work in another case, it is important to work closely with an experienced attorney in dealing with fraud charges. 

Source: Source: Nola.com, “Slidell woman pleads guilty to wire fraud in aftermath of BP oil spill,” Heather Nolan, April 19, 2013. 

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