Defendants Guilty of BP Fund Fraud Claims
Father and daughter, who filed fraudulent claims against the Gulf Coast Claims Facility for lost income purportedly suffered as a result of the oil spill, pled guilty to mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341and 2.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), made the announcement.
On April 11, 2016, Caridad Rioseco Alejandrez, 50, of Key West, Florida, pled guilty for her involvement in the filing of a false claim in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Alejandrez faces a possible term of imprisonment of up to twenty years on the mail fraud charge, a criminal fine of up to $250,000 or twice the intended gain or loss caused by the relevant conduct, and a period of supervised release of up to five years. Additionally, Alejandrez may be ordered to make restitution to the identifiable victims of her crime. Alejandrez is scheduled to be sentenced before United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez on July 11, 2016, at 1:30 p.m., in Key West.
On April 12, 2016, Raul Rioseco, 73, of Stock Island, Florida, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, in connection with his involvement in a similar false claim. Rioseco was also ordered to serve six months of house arrest and at three year term of supervised release, upon his release. Rioseco was further ordered to make restitution payments to the Deepwater Horizon Fund, the successor to the GCCF, in the amount of $144,606.57, which represented the money he unlawfully received from the GCCF and the amounts received by certain other individuals based on fraudulent documents Rioseco provided in support of other fraudulent claims. Additionally, Rioseco was ordered to surrender to the State of Florida and the federal government all his permits and licenses associated with commercial fishing activities.
According to court filings and proceedings, in June 2010, BP established the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) for the purpose of administering and settling certain claims of individuals and businesses for costs, damages, and other losses incurred as a result of oil discharges due to the April 20, 2010, explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil exploration rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico. In August 2010, the GCCF began receiving and processing such claims of individuals and businesses for costs, damages, and other losses they had incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident, paying the claims from a $20 billion private Trust Fund established for that purpose.
Alejandrez and her father, Rioseco, filed fraudulent claims against the fund, in their own names, which resulted in them receiving $35,900 and $55,000, respectively, from the GCCF. The scheme to defraud the GCCF was carried out through mailings and through the use of the internet, to open the claims and to provide required forms and documentation, including employment verification letters and tax return documents. Alejandrez, produced and provided the documents to the GCCF, on behalf of herself and her father. The documents were materially false and fraudulent and claimed Alejandrez and Rioseco were adversely affected by the spill and lost income in the months following the incident, when this was not in fact, the truth.
Rioseco represented himself to the GCCF to be a commercial fisherman, when in fact he was retired and had not been an active fisherman for many years. A lobster boat, licenses, and permits in his name were in fact being used by others, and Rioseco suffered no loss of income or other adverse effect from the oil spill. Additionally, Rioseco admitted that he facilitated the filing of other false claims, in addition to his own fraudulent claims, by signing and providing notarized “Crewshare Statements” for at least five other individuals attesting that he had employed and paid wages to those persons as boat crewmembers during periods relevant to the GCCF claims process. The fraudulent statements were produced to support claims for compensation which were filed by Alejandrez with the GCCF, claiming approximately $89,000 for economic losses purported to have been suffered as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident, despite the fact that none of the individuals were crewmembers aboard the vessel or had been fishing during the relevant time period. Additionally, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the oil spill had little if any effect on the Key West fishing industry, with commercial landings in 2010, the year of the spill, and every year since.
Alejandrez created false income tax returns which she provided to the GCCF in support of her claim that her tax and document preparation business, located on Stock Island, lost income after the oil spill because her customers, primarily fishermen operating out of Stock Island, could no longer afford her services. To maximize her compensation, Alejandrez significantly increased her claimed income on returns for 2008 and 2009, over the income actually reflected in the tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service for those years. Alejandrez provided similar false documentation in the support of claims for many other individuals. A U.S. Postal Service document analyst evaluated Alejandrez’ bank records and found that contrary to the sworn statements on her claim forms, her income had increased substantially after the oil spill. The United States advised the Court that records established an actual loss, due to the fraudulent claims, of approximately $500,000, and that the amounts claimed, although not all paid, approached $1.5 million.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, IRS-CI, the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Homeland Security Investigations and the support provided by the United States Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald, Deputy Chief of the Economic and Environmental Crimes Section.
Members of the public can report fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling 877-NCDF-GCF (877-623-3423), sending a fax to (225) 334-4707, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.