News and Press Releases

FORMER FLORIDA CITY MAN CHARGED IN CONNECTION WITH MAKING FALSE CLAIM ON BP CLAIMS FUND

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 30, 2011

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Tracy Dunn, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, announced that Eliu Gonzalez, 36, most recently a resident of San Jose, Costa Rica, and a former resident of Florida City, Florida, made his initial appearance in District Court in Miami yesterday, in the first criminal case brought in the District arising from claims filed in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico. The indictment unsealed today includes charges of wire fraud and the use of an unauthorized access device in the submission of a fraudulent claim for lost income against the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1029(a)(2), 1029(b)(1), and 1343.

According to the allegations in the indictment and statements in court, on April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire occurred on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that had been drilling an exploration well. In June 2010, BP established the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) for the purpose of administering, mediating, and settling certain claims of individuals and businesses for costs, damages, and other losses incurred as a result of the oil discharges due to the Deepwater Horizon incident. In August 2010, the GCCF began receiving and processing such claims, and BP ceased receiving and processing claims of individuals and businesses for costs, damages, and other losses incurred as a result of the oil discharges due to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Count 1of the indictment alleges that on October 16, 2010, Gonzalez devised a scheme to defraud the GCCF and obtain money from GCCF by sending a fraudulent electronic claim for $110,616 in lost income, knowing the representations in the claim were false. The indictment further alleges in Count 2 that Gonzalez , with the intent to defraud, used an access device consisting of a GCCF Claim number to submit his fraudulent claim for lost income.

United States Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “The GCCF was established to compensate legitimate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, whose livelihood was adversely affected by the spill. It is a shame to see unscrupulous individuals try to take advantage of this fund to line their own pockets by submitting false claims for damages they never suffered. We will continue to investigate and prosecute these cases to make sure these funds go to the folks who need and deserve it.”

FBI Miami Acting Special Agent in Charge Dena E. Choucair said, “Dishonest individuals who seek illicit gains through false damage claims wind up further burdening the victims who really need compensation. The FBI will continue to work with our partners to root out the perpetrators of these crimes and bring them to justice.”

Tracy Dunn, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, added, “Unfortunately, fraudulent claims complicate the process and further delay the compensation and recovery for the real victims of the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill.”

At the hearing yesterday, Gonzalez was ordered detained as a risk of flight, pending further proceedings scheduled for September 2, 2011 at 10:00 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman. The defendant faces a possible term of imprisonment of up to twenty years on Count 1 and an additional term of up to ten years on Count 2. Criminal fines of up to $250,000 on each of the Counts may also be imposed, as well as a period of supervised release of up to five years.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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