ATLANTA - Five people have been indicted on fraud offenses involving the illegal receipt of Hurricane Katrina relief funds and two others have pleaded guilty to taking handouts meant for disaster victims.
The prosecution of these individuals, five of whom are from Gwinnett County, is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Attorney's Office to track down phony requests for federal funds to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The indictments allege that the defendants each told FEMA they were residents of hurricane-affected portions of Louisiana when in fact, they were Georgia residents. Each reportedly used a Louisiana address belonging to someone else.
They were mailed $2,000 in emergency housing assistance, and two of the suspects also received checks for $2,358 for rental assistance.
Charged with mail fraud, making false statements to FEMA to obtain Hurricane Katrina assistance and stealing FEMA funds were: Henry Edwards, 41, of Atlanta, Freddie E. Wilford, 26, of Norcross, Valerie Cayton, 24, of Norcross, Dwight Thomas, 21, of Doraville and Katrillus White, 19, of Doraville. The Dec. 6 indictments were unsealed on Tuesday, said Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta.
Two pleaded guilty
to Katrina fraud
Nakia Duwuane Grimes, 30, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty Tuesday to using mail to defraud the U.S. government. Grimes filled out an application to FEMA sometime around Sept. 14, 2005, claiming she lived in New Orleans. Grimes held herself out to be a victim of the hurricane and applied for $2,000 even though she never lived in the Big Easy, Crosby said.
On Sept. 20, Grimes was notified by the U.S. Postal Service that she needed to pick up and sign for a letter at the post office. She was arrested after signing her name to accept the letter from FEMA containing the relief check.
Grimes' sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 14, 2006, when she could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Earlier this month, 35-year-old Jozell Lois Dickerson of Lawrenceville pleaded guilty to two federal charges, admitting that on Sept. 8 and 14 she filed two separate false claims via the Internet to FEMA using different New Orleans addresses and Social Security numbers. Neither of the addresses or security numbers belonged to Dickerson.
She received two checks for $2,000 each. Dickerson faces a potential 20-year prison sentence and up to a $500,000 fine. Her sentencing hearing is set for Feb. 16, Crosby said.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias of the Northern District of Georgia said federal prosecutors will take all necessary steps to bring the swindlers to justice.
"The two defendants who have pleaded guilty, and allegedly, the five defendants who were indicted last week all hatched their fraudulent schemes while shocking images of destruction from Hurricane Katrina were still fresh in the minds of all Americans," Nahmias said. "The federal funds that the defendants fraudulently obtained were intended to help relieve the enormous financial losses suffered by the many real victims of the hurricane."