The Eye of the Storm

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The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, is predicted to be slightly below average this year. (That’s a welcome relief since last year’s major hurricanes –Florence and Michael – killed more than 100 people and cost nearly $50 billion in damage.) Fortunately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides disaster assistance to help those impacted by a devastating storm or hurricane.  But as you know, where there’s government assistance, there’s usually fraud. Today, we take a look at a Jacksonville, Florida man who committed disaster fraud, not once or twice, but three times.

The Jacksonville man provided false information to FEMA so that he could receive disaster assistance for damage most recently done to his primary residence in 2017 by Hurricane Irma. (He claimed so much damage was done that he needed to relocate.) Further investigation into the man’s claims revealed that he had also submitted claims for damage done during Tropical Storm Debby in 2012 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. (Perhaps this guy should be looking for a new geographic location to live.) In all, the man collected $57,789.19 in disaster assistance from FEMA.

After the third attempt to obtain undeserved FEMA assistance the Jacksonville man found himself in the eye of the storm. The fraudulent Floridian admitted to making false claims for FEMA benefits and pleaded guilty to disaster fraud. In a plea agreement, the 47-year-old defendant agreed to pay more than $57,000 in restitution to FEMA. He is facing up to 20 years in prison when sentenced.

While the 2019 hurricane season is expected to include 13 tropical storms and five hurricanes, there’s no telling how many opportunists will come out to stake their fraudulent claims. One way to prevent fraudsters from stealing undeserved government benefits is to call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 866-720-5721 if you are suspicious. (That’s a great way to batten down the hatches against hurricanes and fraudsters.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article, Florida man pleads guilty to false FEMA claims of hurricane damages,” published by Orlando Sentinel on May 22, 2019.  

A Jacksonville man pleaded guilty Tuesday to making false claims for FEMA benefits in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Matthew, as well as Tropical Storm Debby.

Lepoleon Spikes, 47, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in obtaining FEMA benefits and faces up to 20 years of prison, according to the United States Department of Justice.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.