Three sealed Indictments charging four Hurricane Katrina evacuees with wrongfully obtaining rental assistance from FEMA after having purchased new, fully-furnished homes that were financed by Oprah Winfrey’s “Oprah’s Angel Network,” were unsealed today, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced. The return of these indictments brings to 94 the total number of persons charged with fraud arising from Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Ike relief efforts in the Southern District of Texas.
“The response to natural disasters brings out the best and worst in people,” said Johnson. “Generous acts of charity are tarnished by those who despite the generosity of others, fraudulently make claims for government relief funds. This office will continue its efforts to bring those who make false claims for public funds to justice.”
Darlene McGruder Poole, 30, of Houston, and her sister, Lashona McGruder Victor, 37, of La Place, La., are charged together with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Kiesha Murphy, 34, of Houston, and Angela Payne, aka Angela McKinnies, 38, of Houston, are each charged in separate indictments with making false statements to FEMA and theft of government property. The Indictments, which were returned last Wednesday, were unsealed this morning upon the arrest of Poole, Murphy and Payne at their respective residences in Houston by agents of the Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG), the Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG) and the Federal Protective Service (FPS). These defendants made their initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy this morning, while Victor is expected to surrender to law enforcement authorities in Houston by the end of the week.
In August and September 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall on the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast. Under FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP), FEMA made available an initial rental assistance payment to individuals who were displaced from their homes as a result of Katrina and Rita. Displaced individuals could potentially obtain additional rental assistance payments by submitting a declaration of continuing need for rental assistance. Under FEMA’s IHP, individuals who purchased a home after a disaster ceased to be entitled to rental assistance as they were no longer making rental payments and now maintained a new primary residence.