Opening the Flood Gates

19642335 - deep flood water in residential area des plains, il, usa city under river flood water nature disasters photography collection

Over approximately five days in August 2016, several areas in southeast Louisiana received more than two feet of rain, causing extreme flooding within 12 parishes. A major disaster declaration was made three days after the deluge began, opening the flood gates for deceptive home owners to submit fraudulent claims for assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is about a Baton Rouge man who committed nearly $14,000 in disaster fraud by claiming his home had been damaged from the torrential rain and subsequent flooding.

FEMA’s mission is to support American citizens and first responders in the preparation for, protection against, response to and recovery from, and mitigation of all hazards. In the case of this Louisiana disaster, FEMA statistics show that more than 83,000 individual assistance applications were approved, amounting to nearly $776 million in aid. (But, keep in mind that this funding was available to people who had emergency needs for food, shelter and clothing.)

Today’s fraudster was not a victim in the true sense of the word as claimed. While the 65-year-old man did own a home in Baton Rouge that was negatively impacted by the flooding, it was not his primary residence at the time of the natural disaster. A tenant who was actually renting the property at that time sustained damage and filed a claim for assistance with FEMA as well. (Ironically, the renter’s legitimate claim was delayed due to the owner’s fraudulent claim and the two submissions for the same property most likely alerted FEMA to the deception. I’m guessing the owner didn’t have flood insurance, so he was trying to pin the clean-up bill on the government.)

Court documents show that the home owner was residing elsewhere at the time of his fraudulent claim. (This obviously makes him ineligible to receive assistance from the government because FEMA requires the applicant to reside in the damaged home at the time of the disaster.) As a result of the homeowner’s fraudulent application, he received $13,907 from the agency. (While that amount of money may not seem like a lot, consider other fraudsters who tried the same scam. It all adds up in the end to a large amount of government assistance funds that never makes it into the hands of the true victims who deserve help.)

The Baton Rouge homeowner pleaded guilty to disaster fraud and is currently waiting to be sentenced. This fraudster’s conviction is a good example of how serious the government takes fraudulent activity, no matter the dollar amount. In light of the recent number of natural disasters that have occurred in the same area of the country, there’s a good chance that others may try to commit disaster-related fraud as well.

You can be part of the disaster fraud solution if you suspect someone of committing fraud involving disaster relief efforts or believe you have been the victim of fraud due to someone soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims. Contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline by calling (866) 720-5721 at any time. In cases like today’s, a simple phone call is the best way to hang fraudsters out to dry.

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on a Department of Justice press release entitled, “Baton Rouge Man Pleads Guilty to Theft of Disaster Assistance Funds,” released on October 4, 2017.

Acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson, who also serves as the Acting Executive Director of the National Center for Disaster Fraud, announced today that Joe W. Jones, 65, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to theft of $13,807 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds in relation to the 2016 Baton Rouge flooding.

Following the 2016 flooding that affected 12 parishes in south Louisiana, FEMA funds were available to people who had emergency needs for food, shelter, and clothing because of the flood. In order to qualify for assistance based on home ownership, an individual must have, among other things, resided in the home at the time of the storm.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.