News and Press Releases

Defendant Falsely Claimed She Resided on Gulf Coast During Hurricane Disaster

June 22, 2007

MATTIE LOUISE GRESHAM, 53, of Lakewood, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to seven months in custody for filing a false claim in connection with Hurricane Katrina. GRESHAM, who had lived in Washington State since 2001, claimed her primary residence was in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane. GRESHAM fraudulently collected $25,600 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a result of this false claim. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton told GRESHAM that when people take advantage of philanthropic programs, it “turns other peoples' hearts to stone” and causes them to withdraw from participating in or giving to charitable efforts.

GRESHAM called the FEMA assistance center on September 20, 2005, claiming she had been a victim of the hurricane. In fact, GRESHAM had retained an ownership interest in a house in New Orleans after she moved away in 2001. However, GRESHAM knew the house had been empty since 2003, and GRESHAM believed the county had condemned the house in 2003.

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. More than a dozen people have been charged in connection with Hurricane Katrina fraud in the Western District of Washington.

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).

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arlen Storm.

For additional information, please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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 or sent by surface mail, with as many details as possible, to Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4909.

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