FEMA Worker Awaits Trial in 1998 Scheme to File Bogus Claims, Steal $48,000

May 27, 2005

A state worker who was assigned to process Federal Emergency Management Agency claims, and who was indicted in Miami in 1998 for planning to steal nearly $48,000 in bogus hurricane claims, has been returned from Panama to the United States and is being held for trial without bond.

Rafael Montejo, recruited friends and relatives to file bogus disaster relief claims after Hurricane Andrew. In November 1998 he fled to Panama after failing to comply with a grand jury subpoena requiring him to provide his fingerprints and a handwriting sample, according to court records.

The FBI listed Montejo as one of its most-wanted individuals and posted his picture on the Internet.

According to the indictment, Montejo was a government analyst who determined eligibility for FEMA’s Individual and Family Grant program after Hurricane Andrew. At the time, the program was administered by the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, and Montejo functioned as an assistant to the program’s director, court records state.

The program provided up to $11,500 per applicant for housing, transportation, personal property, medical and dental bills, and funeral expenses.

According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Montejo recruited friends, acquaintances and relatives to call a FEMA hotline and apply for aid in the name of a previous existing applicant, the indictment states. While the additional claim was pending, Montejo filed a change of address form for the supposed applicant, providing a fake address or the address of one of his associates, according to the indictment.

The checks “were eventually retrieved and controlled” by Montejo, as were checks returned as undeliverable because of the false addresses, the records state.

Montejo pleaded not guilty to the charges May 12. His next court appearance is set for June 8 before U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard.

He could receive up to 33 months in prison if convicted.

FEMA has been the focus of several federal investigations in recent months for distributing $31 million in aid to residents of Miami-Dade County in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Frances, even though the storm made landfall 100 miles to the north and caused little damage in the county.

Fourteen aid recipients were indicted in March for wire fraud for filing false claims. Of those, eight have pleaded guilty.

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