JANUARY 28, 2009
The mayor of a Mississippi city destroyed by a 2005 hurricane has been charged with more than a dozen counts of fraud for lying to get federal disaster money to repair his damaged beachfront house.
An 11-page federal indictment charges Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and his wife with stealing federal funds, filing false disaster assistance claims and committing insurance fraud. Prosecutors say the Republican mayor is the highest-ranking public official to be charged with corruption related to the huge storm—Hurricane Katrina—that devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
According to the indictment, Warr and his wife filed fraudulent paperwork to get federal grants to repair hurricane damage to their beachfront home. The couple signed various documents applying for the grants and other federal disaster aid even though the home didn’t qualify because it was not their primary residence.
The Warrs fraudulently obtained nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the federal government, according to the indictment, and made false claims to their insurance company. If convicted, the couple, which is scheduled to go to trial in April, faces decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
Corruption was so rampant in the storm’s aftermath that the Justice Department created a special Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force to prosecute wrongdoing related to the disaster. Comprised of federal and local law enforcement agencies, the task force has investigated more than 10,000 cases and prosecuted nearly 1,000. They include people cheating aid programs, swindling contracts and scamming charities.
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