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Press Release

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Red Cross of Hurricane Relief Funds

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. – A Richardson, Texas, man pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to commit wire fraud to defraud the American Red Cross of disaster relief funds donated to the Red Cross by members of the American public for the benefit of the victims of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

According to court documents, Muata Khalif, 55, conspired with other individuals to obtain the personal information of Texas residents, and to use that personal information to apply for and obtain Red Cross disaster relief payments in those individuals’ names. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in August of 2017, and the resultant damage to areas of Texas and Louisiana, the Red Cross initiated an “Immediate Assistance Program,” funded by public donations, to provide financial assistance to disaster victims. Upon verifying that an applicant was, in fact, a resident of an affected area in Texas, the Red Cross would provide the applicant with a $400 cash payment, which the applicant could retrieve at, among other designated locations, Wal-Mart Money Centers. To retrieve the $400 Red Cross payment, the applicant needed to be able to provide the applicant’s verified Red Cross client ID number and a corresponding, specific payment reference number.

In October of 2017, Khalif – at the time, a resident of Emporia, Virginia – obtained the client ID and reference numbers of at least 116 individuals. Armed with this information, and over the course of a five-day span, Khalif traveled to Wal-Mart stores located in Emporia, Colonial Heights, Petersburg, and Midlothian to obtain the Red Cross relief payments intended for those individuals. One day into his scheme, Khalif met, befriended, and then recruited a Petersburg Wal-Mart Money Center cashier. Assisted by this Wal-Mart employee, Khalif eventually obtained 116 Red Cross disaster relief payments, totaling more than $46,000 in fraud loss to the Red Cross—funds which had been donated to the Red Cross for the explicit purpose of assisting hurricane victims.  

Khalif is scheduled to be sentenced on November 17. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Jerald W. Page, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Richmond Field Office, made the announcement after U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark R. Colombell accepted the plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kaitlin Cooke and Thomas A. Garnett are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:22-cr-29.

Updated August 22, 2022

Disaster Fraud