FORMER FLORIDA CITY MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO MAKING FALSE CLAIM ON BP CLAIMS FUND
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 Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, announced that Eliu Gonzalez, 37, a former resident of Florida City, Florida, entered a guilty plea today in United States District Court on a charge arising from a false claim filed in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico. Gonzalez entered his guilty plea to a charge of wire fraud in the submission of his fraudulent claim for lost income against the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.
Sentencing is scheduled for January 11, 2012 at 8:30 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz. The defendant faces a possible term of imprisonment of up to twenty years on the wire fraud charge and a criminal fine of up to $250,000 may also be imposed, as well as a period of supervised release of up to five years. Gonzalez was been detained as a risk of flight since his arrest in August 2011.
According to the allegations in the indictment and a Joint Factual Statement submitted to the 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.
Gonzalez admitted in Court that on October 16, 2010, in furtherance of a scheme to obtain money from the GCCF, he filed a fraudulent electronic claim via the internet for $110,616 in lost income, knowing the representations in his claim were false. He is the first person to be convicted of a Deepwater Horizon related fraud in the Southern District of Florida.
To substantiate his claim of lost income, Gonzalez provided a series of sixteen “trip tickets” from a fish market in Miami, Florida, which purported to reflect landings and sales by defendant to the wholesaler of yellow tail snapper from January 8, 2010 through April 23, 2010. In a hand-written letter transmitted with his claim he also asserted ownership of a fishing vessel, the “TRUDI ANN II” and cited to “the dramatic impact of the oil spill” for financial hardship to him, and loss of income and profit from his commercial fishing activity.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
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.