Houston Resident Convicted of Fraud Scheme Linked to Hurricane Harvey
HOUSTON ‐ A Houston area resident has entered a guilty plea to fraud in connection with a major disaster for her scheme to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Patricia Rodriguez, 38, of Houston, entered her guilty plea today before U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore.
As part of that plea, Rodriguez admitted she submitted a false or fraudulent application to FEMA for government assistance in reference to property damage sustained in Hurricane Harvey. The property was located in Houston but which investigators determined not to have sustained any damage.
Rodriguez admitted the application was fraudulent as it contained a falsified letter purporting to be from her landlord. The letter claimed Rodriguez bought the damaged dwelling for $7,000 on Feb. 9, 2013, and would thereafter lease the lot for $300 per month. The landlord’s name was misspelled and was drafted without his authorization and consent.
As a result of her scheme, Rodriguez received $33,300 from FEMA, all of which was sent to into her personal bank account.
Sentencing has been set for April 29, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore. At that time, Rodriguez faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison a possible $250,000 fine. She was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Small Business Administration – OIG conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Day is prosecuting the case.
Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before trusting anyone purporting to be working on behalf of disaster victims and before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims as well as being extremely cautious before providing personal identifying or financial information to anyone, especially those who may contact you after a natural disaster. Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and similar methods. Members of the public who suspect fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, or believe they have been the victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721. The telephone line is staffed by live operators 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also fax information to the Center at (225) 334-4707 or email it to email@example.com (link sends e-mail). Learn more about the NCDF at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud and watch a public service announcement here. Tips for the public on how to avoid being victimized of fraud are at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tips-avoiding-fraudulent-charitable-contribution-schemes.