News and Press Releases

Two Las Vegas Residents Arrested for Fraudulently Obtaining Funds Set Aside for Hurricane Katrina Victims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2007

Las Vegas, Nev. – Two Las Vegas residents were arrested today after being indicted last week on charges that they fraudulently obtained federal monies designated for victims of Hurricane Katrina, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Wilbert J. Bennett, Jr., age 31, is charged with Theft of Government Funds. According to the Indictment, from about September 27, 2005, to February 4, 2006, Bennett, Jr. unlawfully obtained approximately $15,009 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief monies that had been set aside for victims of the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. Bennett allegedly claimed that he was residing in Louisiana in August 2005, when he was actually living in Henderson, Nevada. If convicted, Bennett faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Sheila Ritter, age 47, is charged with Theft of Government Funds. According to the Indictment, on about October 3, 2005, Ritter unlawfully obtained approximately $20,966 in FEMA disaster relief monies that had been set aside for victims of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Ritter allegedly claimed that she was residing in Louisiana in August 2005, when she was actually living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ritter also faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Renee Bellinger, aka Renee McLoughlin, age 42, was also indicted last week and remains a fugitive. Bellinger is charged with Theft of Government Funds, Identity Theft and Use of Social Security Number Assigned to Another. According to the Indictment, from about September 7, 2005, to August 1, 2006, Bellinger unlawfully obtained approximately $23,493 in FEMA disaster relief monies that had been set aside for victims of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Bellinger allegedly used the identification of her mother to fraudulently obtain approximately $4,358 of those FEMA funds. Bellinger allegedly claimed that her primary residence was in Louisiana, when she was actually living in Las Vegas and employed by the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees (IATSE) Local Union as a secretary. If convicted, Bellinger faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the Theft of Government Funds and Social Security Number charges, and up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the Identity Theft charge.

Defendants Ritter and Bennett Jr. are scheduled to make initial appearances today at 3:00 p.m. before United States Magistrate Judge Leen.

The cases are being investigated by the Offices of the Inspector General for the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, Social Security Administration, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, and the United States Postal Inspection Service, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kimberly M. Frayn.

In September 2005, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales created the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, designed to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft, procurement fraud and insurance fraud. The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force - chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division - includes the FBI, the U.S. Inspectors General community, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and others.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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