Two Miami-Dade County Residents Charged Federally for Fraudulently Obtaining Hurricane Harvey Disaster-Relief Funds
Two Miami-Dade County, Florida residents were charged with participating in a scheme to fraudulently obtain Hurricane Harvey disaster-relief funds.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and Brian Swain, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
Fredna Frederic, 27, and Courtney Lillie Gillis, 28, both of Miami-Dade County, have been charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and three counts of wire fraud (Case No. 19-20290-CR-Gayles/Otazo-Reyes). If convicted Frederic and Gillis face up to 20 years in prison for the offenses, fines and a term of supervised release.
According to the indictment, after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston, Texas area, a humanitarian organization made disaster-relief funds available to residents of the affected area. These funds were dispensed by a number of companies, including a national retailer headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. In order to qualify for these relief funds, an individual had to enter the names, addresses, and dates of birth of individuals who resided in the affected area. Once this information was verified, the individual would receive a reference code that could be redeemed for a $400 payment at a national retailer.
The indictment alleges, that in order to execute the scheme, Frederic and Gillis’s co-conspirators applied for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief funds by falsely and fraudulently using the names, addresses, and dates of birth of individuals who resided in the disaster-relief area to obtain reference codes. It is alleged that, as part of the scheme, Frederic contacted Gillis, who was an employee of the national retail store where reference codes could be redeemed, and offered Gillis a kickback if she processed the reference codes. It is further alleged that, on approximately fifteen occasions, Frederic provided those reference codes to Gillis, who then entered these reference codes into the retailer’s computer system and then issued payments of $400 per code to Frederic and her co-conspirators.
An indictment merely contains allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and various law enforcement and regulatory agencies to form a national coordinating agency within the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice to improve and further the detection, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of fraud related to natural and man-made disasters, and to advocate for the victims of such fraud. Anyone with information about Disaster Fraud is encouraged to call (866) 720-5721.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the USSS in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marty Fulgueira Elfenbein.