West Alabama Man, Tuscaloosa Woman Sentenced in Separate Disaster Fraud Cases
BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge today sentenced a west Alabama man to 21 months in prison for fraudulently claiming disaster benefits following the April 27 tornadoes in Alabama, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Maley and James E. Ward, special agent in charge, Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General.
U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler sentenced ROBERT LEE SPIRES, 47, on two counts of attempted wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency of disaster-related benefits. Judge Coogler ordered Spires to pay FEMA $1,585 in restitution. A federal grand jury indicted Spires on the wire fraud charges in September. He pleaded guilty to the charges in November.
Spires was the second person sentenced for disaster fraud this week in federal court in the Northern District of Alabama. U.S. District Judge C. Lynwood Smith Jr. on Wednesday sentenced Evegelin Coleman, 44, of Tuscaloosa, to six months incarceration for making a false statement to FEMA to obtain or attempt to obtain disaster benefits. She falsely claimed on an application for disaster funds that her primary residence was on 28th Avenue East in Tuscaloosa, an area devastated by the April tornadoes. Coleman pleaded guilty in November to one count each of disaster benefit fraud and making a false statement to the government. She is scheduled to report to prison April 5.
Judge Smith ordered that, after serving one month in prison, Coleman could complete her sentence in a community confinement center or, if a center is not available, in home detention with electronic monitoring. The judge also ordered Coleman to pay $1,114 restitution to FEMA.
In Spires’ scheme, he received $1,114 for rental assistance and $471 for personal property assistance from FEMA after falsely claiming that he was renting a house on Short 25th Avenue East in Tuscaloosa when it was severely damaged by a tornado, according to court documents. He did not live or own property at that address. Spires made further attempts to defraud FEMA, seeking disaster benefits for non-existent vision-related expenses and for damages to a car and home appliances he did not own.
The public can report fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations through the National Disaster Fraud Hotline, toll free, at 1-866-720-5721, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The FBI and DHS-OIG investigated both cases. The Tuscaloosa Police Department participated in the search for Spires, and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the City of Fayette Police Department, made the arrest.
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