News and Press Releases

FORMER FLORIDA CITY MAN SENTENCED FOR MAKING FALSE CLAIM ON BP CLAIMS FUND

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 11, 2012

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, was sentenced today in United States District Court in Miami after his conviction arising from a false claim he filed in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico. Gonzalez previously entered a guilty plea to a charge of wire fraud in the submission of his fraudulent claim for more than $110,000 of lost income against the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.

Gonzalez was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz to a term of imprisonment of one year and one day, followed by a term of imprisonment of supervised release of one year. The Court determined that Gonzalez was unable to pay a fine.

According to the allegations of the indictment, a Joint Factual Statement by the parties, and statements in court, 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 April 20, 2010 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that had been drilling an exploration well. In August 2010, the GCCF began receiving and processing claims and BP ceased its claims processing activities related to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

On October 16, 2010, Gonzalez admitted in Court that, 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 and sentenced 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 Miami fish market that purported to reflect landings and sales by defendant 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. It was also disclosed that Gonzalez provided false documentation to purported crewmen working for him, in order to support their fraudulent claims for compensation from the Oil Spill Trust Fund, one of whom actually received $24,000.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement and the assistance provided by the National Center for Disaster Fraud in Baton Rouge, LA. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

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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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