Ex-Pastor Seeks Reduced Sentence in Katrina Relief Fraud Case

December 12, 2014

A former New Orleans, La., pastor who embezzled nearly $1 million in disaster relief aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has asked a federal judge to shorten his prison sentence by several years.

The Rev. Toris Young, who has convictions in three federal cases and has been behind bars about five years, also is lobbying U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to recommend he be transferred to a halfway house or home detention for the rest of his sentence.

The New Orleans Advocate reports federal prosecutors have opposed Young’s requests, saying a hearing set for next week is not necessary. They also said it’s up to the Bureau of Prisons, not the judge, to decide whether a prisoner should be placed in a halfway house.

“He has a continuous and persistent pattern of similar illegal behavior,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Loan “Mimi” Nguyen wrote in a court filing. “Despite any good behavior he has demonstrated recently . Young’s extensive criminal history, beginning in 1990, is a more reliable indicator of (the) likelihood that he will engage in future criminal conduct.”

Young pleaded guilty in 2012 to mail fraud and theft of government funds. The charges stemmed from a scheme after the storm in which Young received nearly $1 million in government aid to rebuild the Bible Way Baptist Church in Hollygrove, where he served as pastor. In applying for the funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration, he agreed the proceeds would be used only to reconstruct the church. Instead, prosecutors said, he spent the money on jewelry, vehicles, real estate, designer clothes and credit card debt.

Young’s guilty plea followed a prior conviction for bank fraud and passing forged money orders in a separate federal case in Jackson, Miss.

He initially received a 10-year sentence for the post-Katrina embezzlement case, and Barbier ordered the term be served consecutively to his sentences in the prior two federal cases, which together totaled more than four years. In all, then, Young faced 14 years in prison before receiving the two-year reduction at the end of last year in exchange for his cooperation.

Young is asking Barbier to set his three prison terms to run concurrently.

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