3 Indicted in Okla. for Defrauding Government of Hurricane Katrina Relief

May 8, 2008

A federal grand jury in Oklahoma has indicted three people for allegedly trying to obtain Hurricane Katrina disaster relief through fraud.

The panel in Tulsa indicted James Ishmel Hayes Sr., 44, and Sybil Lynn Hayes, 41. Terry James Ruffin, 52, also was indicted for similar conduct by the same grand jury in an unrelated case.

Ruffin’s brother, Troy Ruffin, 49, was sentenced April 29 to five years of probation and was ordered to pay more than $6,000 in restitution for Hurricane Katrina fraud. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McLoughlin said the Ruffin brothers’ cases are not connected and that Terry Ruffin’s whereabouts are unknown.

Sybil Hayes purportedly gained $27,932 through claims connected to her childhood home in New Orleans. McLoughlin said she hadn’t had legal interest in the residence since the 1990s.

According to the indictment, Terry Ruffin applied for aid based on damage to a Louisiana residence that he did not own. The indictment says he lived in Tulsa at the time of the storm.

Terry Ruffin received $2,000 from FEMA and $1,265 from the American Red Cross before a tipster let authorities know that his claims were not legitimate, McLoughlin said.

Another tip led authorities to the alleged illegal conduct of James Hayes Sr., McLoughlin said.

He allegedly claimed that an address in New Orleans received damage, but he didn’t own it and was living in Broken Arrow at the time. Hayes raked in $6,386 before authorities caught on, McLoughlin said.

Nearly 850 people have been charged with hurricane-related fraud in federal courts across the country, said McLoughlin, coordinator of the Northern District of Oklahoma’s Hurricane Katrina Task Force.

Nine of those people have been charged in federal court in Tulsa, he said.

The Bush administration acknowledged in December that it was trying to recover nearly $500 million from people who improperly received federal disaster aid.

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