Mitchael Morgan Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour
Bill Mercer, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, announced today that during a federal court session in Billings on September 16, 2009, before Chief U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull, MITCHAEL MORGAN, a 42-year-old resident of Billings, pled guilty to making false claims. Sentencing is set for December 16, 2009. He is currently released on special conditions.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica T. Fehr, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
MORGAN was an employee of Rimrock Auto Group in Billings. In the summer of 2005, Rimrock sent a number of employees, including MORGAN, to their sister dealership in New Orleans, Louisiana, in an effort to aid the financially failing business. MORGAN traveled to the New Orleans dealership prior to Hurricane Katrina. Several other employees temporarily resided in New Orleans while working at the dealership. MORGAN and other employees resided at the Quality Inn Extended Stay Motel in New Orleans. MORGAN was in New Orleans for approximately 30 days. MORGAN and at least one other Rimrock employee left New Orleans just prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall and traveled back to Billings. MORGAN continued his employment with Rimrock after returning to Billings.
Following Hurricane Katrina's landfall in the southern United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began accepting claims from residents of the affected areas. Only permanent residents of the disaster areas were authorized to receive disaster payments. Residents contacted FEMA via a toll free number and answered a series of questions to determine their eligibility for FEMA benefits. Residents were asked for the address of the property damaged by the hurricane, whether the address listed was the applicant's permanent address, the type of residence, whether the residence was owned or rented and where the applicant was currently residing. Residents were asked if they had suffered damage to their motor vehicle, home and/or personal property. Residents were also asked if they had disaster-related essential needs for food, clothing or shelter.
On September 13, 2005, MORGAN telephoned the FEMA hotline and submitted a FEMA form 90-69, an application for emergency funds, due to his alleged displacement as a result of Hurricane Katrina. MORGAN gave the New Orleans dealership address as his residential address, claimed that the address was his primary residence, that it was an apartment, that his apartment was damaged as a result of the hurricane, that his vehicle was damaged, that he had disaster-related needs for food, clothing or shelter, that he or his family members had lost work as a result of the disaster, and that he was self-employed.
MORGAN was not a permanent resident of New Orleans. MORGAN did not own, lease or rent any real property in New Orleans. MORGAN did not have immediate needs for food, clothing or shelter as a result of the hurricane. MORGAN was still employed by the Rimrock Auto Group - he was not self employed as he claimed on the FEMA form.
On September 13, 2005, based on MORGAN'S statements and representations to FEMA, a Treasury check was issued to MORGAN for $2,000. The check was mailed to his primary residence in Billings and deposited at the Valley Federal Credit Union in Billings in October of 2005.
On November 16, 2007, a Secret Service Agent interviewed MORGAN at his place of employment. When asked about the FEMA form, MORGAN responded that he had lost approximately $20,000 worth of clothing and personal items in the disaster. MORGAN informed the agent that because he had suffered loss, that "someone" owed him money and he knew the government had money to disperse. By the conclusion of the interview MORGAN stated that he understood he was not entitled to the funds.
FEMA would not have provided disaster related benefits to MORGAN but for his false statements.
MORGAN faces possible penalties of 5 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 3 years supervised release.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General.
A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.