NEW IBERIA RESIDENT SENTENCED FOR FEMA THEFT SCHEME
LAFAYETTE, La. – United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced today that Valerie Benjamin, 49, of New Iberia, La., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Richard T. Haik to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiring to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) out of more than $24,000 dollars in false hurricane damage claims. She was ordered to pay $24,960 in restitution to FEMA for the losses incurred under the scheme. Valerie Benjamin pleaded guilty April 16, 2013.
According to the evidence presented at the guilty plea, Valerie Benjamin conspired with Jacqueline Benjamin and Pamela Alexander, also of New Iberia, to steal money from FEMA. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008, Valerie Benjamin submitted applications to FEMA seeking disaster assistance and emergency housing assistance, claiming she was required to evacuate her residence because of storm damage. The investigation revealed that she never moved from her home, and it only sustained minor storm damage. To facilitate the scheme Valerie Benjamin provided personal information such as her address, Social Security Number, date of birth and phone number to Pamela Alexander and Jacqueline Benjamin who filed fictitious landlord statements, rental agreements, rent receipts and other documents to make it appear that Valerie Benjamin legitimately qualified for the assistance.
Pamela Alexander pleaded guilty December 18, 2012 and on May 13, 2013 was sentenced to serve 10 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Alexander was also ordered to pay $15,280 in restitution. Jacqueline Benjamin pleaded guilty March 14, 2013 and was sentenced June 12, 2013 to serve three years of probation. She was also ordered to pay restitution.
“The defendants in this case took advantage of a program designed to help those in need and provide money to victims of natural disasters,” Finley stated. “Their actions put an unnecessary financial burden on an agency tasked with the huge responsibility of responding to the aftermath of hurricanes. This office and our judicial partners will continue to prosecute these types of cases to make sure that the money is not diverted to frauds like these defendants.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph T. Mickel prosecuted the case.