A federal grand jury, sparked by a Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel investigation into fraud in Miami-Dade hurricane aid payments through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, indicted 14 people on a variety of fraud counts on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Twelve of the 14 people were picked up early Wednesday and taken to the federal courthouse in Miami for processing. Ten of them had first appearance hearings on Wednesday and two more were scheduled for Thursday. Two people remain at large.
All will be charged with wire and mail fraud, which carries a 20-year maximum sentence if convicted. Also filed against each were charges of filing false FEMA claims, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
FEMA has been under increasing fire for handing out more than $30.8 million to Miami-Dade residents who claimed damage from Hurricane Frances, the Labor Day storm that struck more than 100 miles away.
The claims in question in Wednesday’s indictment ranged from more than $24,000 down to several thousand dollars.
Tom Muldihill, first assistant U.S. Attorney, called the actions of a few reprehensible.
“Unfortunately, these people didn’t rush in to pitch in, they rushed in to take advantage,” Muldihill told the Sun-Sentinel.
The indictments and arrests in the Federal Emergency Management Agency fraud case were announced at a scheduled 3:30 p.m. press conference in Miami. The meeting with the media was held immediately after the first 10 defendants’ initial appearances.
Those initial 10 were identified as Quiana Reggins, Cassandra Brown, Equilla Smith, Yolanda Thomas, Miranda Woodward, Mary Barbara, Daniel Bellegard, Kerline Jeanlouis, Christina Brown and Aaron Brown.
Indicted but not at Wednesday’s hearing were Leslie Johnson, Sherry Richardson, Rena Henderson and Amanda Heflin.
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