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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Alabama

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Walker County Man Sentenced To Two Years In Prison For Disaster Fraud

BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge today sentenced a Walker County man to two years in prison for fraudulently claiming $30,200 in federal disaster relief funds following the April 2011 tornadoes across North Alabama, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr. and Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge James E. Ward.

DONNIE LEE BURLESON, 38, must pay $30,200 in restitution to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and serve five years of supervised release after completing his prison term, according to the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn.

Burleson pleaded guilty in June to one count of disaster-benefit fraud for falsely representing to FEMA on May 3, 2011, that he owned a residence in Hackleburg that was destroyed by an April 27, 2011, tornado. Based on Burleson's fraudulent claim, FEMA paid him $30,200 in disaster-relief benefits. The federal funds were paid in connection with the Presidential Disaster Declaration for Alabama that followed the deadly April tornadoes that raked the state, destroying communities in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Hackleburg and elsewhere.

Burleson, through his false claim to FEMA, fraudulently diverted disaster benefits to himself that were meant for honest citizens genuinely affected by the storm, the government said in its Sentencing Memorandum. "He sought to parlay the community's devastation and distress into a financial windfall for himself," the memo said.

The FBI and DHS, OIG, investigated the case, which was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama

Updated March 19, 2015