HARAHAN MAN PLEADS GUITLY TO STEALING FEDERAL FUNDS
VERNON PONDER, a resident of Harahan, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Mary Lemmon to a one count bill of information for theft of government funds, announced U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. The bill of information was originally filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, but transferred by consent to the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
According to the bill of information, PONDER submitted applications to the Mississippi Development Authority (“MDA”) for a grant and to the U.S. Small Business Association (“SBA”) for a disaster loan to repair his vacation home located in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, after it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. In the applications that he submitted to the MDA and SBA, PONDER falsely claimed that the Bay St. Louis house was his primary residence when, in fact, his primary residence was in Harahan. In addition to the foregoing, PONDER also submitted an application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) for disaster assistance funds after the storm. In that application, he also claimed that his primary residence was in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. As a direct result of his actions, the MDA provided PONDER with a grant totaling $100,000.00 to repair his home. He also received a loan from the SBA in the amount of $10,000.00 for home repairs, and $7,102.63 in disaster assistance from FEMA.
Sometime after the funds were disbursed, agents with the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the SBA, and the Department of Homeland Security began investigating the matter. Their investigation revealed that PONDER was not primarily residing in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and that his primary residence was in Harahan, Louisiana. After confronting him with the facts, PONDER admitted that the property in Bay St. Louis was not his primary residence.
PONDER faces a maximum of term of imprisonment of ten (10) years, a $250,000 fine, three (3) years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment, and a $100 special assessment. The sentencing has been scheduled for January 26, 2012.
The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General for HUD, SBA, and FEMA. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrea Jones of the Mississippi U.S. Attorney’s Office and Spiro Latsis of the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s Office.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud from a person or an organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of storm victims or have knowledge of waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud toll free at: (866) 720-5721. You can also fax information to: (225) 334-4707 or e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org