News and Press Releases

KATRINA FRAUD DEFENDANT PLEADS GUILTY
Defendant Falsely Claimed he was Living in New Orleans at Time of Hurricane Katrina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 19, 2007

GREGORY FRANK WILKES, 50, of Auburn, Washington, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to Theft of Government Property in connection with claims he filed following Hurricane Katrina. WILKES is one of the first defendants to plead guilty in connection to Hurricane Katrina Fraud in Western Washington. In his plea agreement WILKES admits he was living in Bothell, Washington at the time of the hurricane. WILKES falsely claimed he was living at an address in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane. The address, on Bunker Hill Road, was his sister’s address in New Orleans.

WILKES unlawfully collected $8,866 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance funds based on the claims he filed. As part of the plea agreement, WILKES will repay the money as restitution to the federal government.

Sentencing is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess on August 3, 2007. As part of the plea agreement the government has agreed to recommend that WILKES be sentenced to the low end of the sentencing guidelines range calculated by Judge Burgess at the time of sentencing. The statutory sentence for Theft of Government Property is up to ten years in prison, a $250,000 fine and two to three years of supervised release.

WILKES is one of eleven people charged in the Western District of Washington with filing false claims for assistance following Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Walter Joseph Lewis, 49, of Federal Way, Washington, pleaded guilty April 9 to Making a False Statement. Lewis fraudulently collected $6,852 in assistance.

The Katrina Fraud Task Force in the Western District of Washington is being led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG). The task force pro-actively reviewed all applications for Hurricane Katrina assistance from the State of Washington to determine whether the recipients were residing in Washington or the Gulf Coast at the time of the hurricane. The investigation of fraudulent claims is continuing.

In the Western District of Washington the agencies working on the task force include the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG), the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG), the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (SSA-OIG), the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General (SBA-OIG), the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the FBI and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

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 U.S. Attorneys and others.

Anyone suspecting criminal activity involving disaster assistance programs can make an anonymous report by calling the toll-free Hurricane Relief Fraud Hotline, 1-866-720-5721, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until further notice. Information can also be emailed to the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force at HKFTF@leo.gov or sent by surface mail, with as many details as possible, to Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4909.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jim Lord. For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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