WOMAN SENTENCED TO NEARLY FOUR YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON
FOR DEFRAUDING U.S. GOVERNMENT OF MORE THAN $30,000 FOLLOWING
HURRICANES KATRINA AND RITA
LUBBOCK, Texas — A former San Angelo, Texas, woman, Sandra K. Howell, who was convicted at trial in January of various offenses related to a scheme she ran to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) of approximately $23,000 and the Department of Labor (DOL) of approximately $7000 in disaster-related benefits following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, was sentenced to 46 months in prison on Friday, announced U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper of the Northern District of Texas.
Howell was convicted on one count of conspiracy, one count of making false claims, seven counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of theft of government funds. She was immediately remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service after the verdict.
Howell’s two co-defendants, Charles J. Chaisson, 44, and Gregory J. Chaisson, 46, each pled guilty in September and October 2007. Charles J. Chaisson, who pled guilty to one count of making false claims and aiding and abetting, was sentenced in December to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay $3956 in restitution. Gregory J. Chaisson pled guilty to theft of government property and aiding and abetting and was sentenced in January to 36 months in prison and ordered to pay $1250 in restitution. Gregory Chaisson was Howell’s fiancé and Charles Chaisson is his brother.
On Friday, September 23, 2005, the day Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Gulf Coast, Howell arrived in San Angelo, Texas, from Lafayette, Louisiana. She was accompanied by Charles J. Chaisson. At that time, Gregory J. Chaisson was in jail in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. Upon his release from jail on January 17, 2006, Gregory J. Chaisson traveled to San Angelo and resided with Howell.
Howell and Charles J. Chaisson conspired together to defraud FEMA of approximately $30,000 by falsely making claims to FEMA that they were victims of Hurricanes Katrina andRita. Howell claimed that her primary residence in New Orleans was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and both Howell and Chaisson made false claims that their residence in Lafayette, Louisiana, was damaged by Hurricane Rita. In addition, they both made false claims for disaster relief on behalf of Gregory Chaisson, falsely stating that his primary residence was also damaged by Hurricane Rita.
Howell was not residing in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. During 2005, Howell resided in an apartment in Lafayette, Louisiana, until she was evicted at the end of August 2005. Further, neither Howell nor Charles J. Chaisson nor Gregory J. Chaisson had established residency at the address in Lafayette, Louisiana, which each claimed sustained damages from Hurricane Rita.
Howell and the Chaisson brothers made false claims to Concho Valley Workforce Solutions, a San Angelo-based organization that received and disbursed emergency relief funds for hurricane evacuees through a grant from DOL. As a result of Howell and the Chaisson brothers falsely portraying themselves as Hurricane Katrina evacuees, Concho Valley Workforce Solutions disbursed approximately $7000 for their benefit.
The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force was created 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 includes members from the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Postal Inspector’s Office and the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, among others.
U.S. Attorney Roper praised the investigative efforts in this case of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security - Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Labor - Office of the Inspector General, and the San Angelo Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ann C. Roberts and Scott Frost of the Lubbock Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.