Jury Selection Completed in Miami Hurricane Frances Fraud Case

U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga opened testimony Wednesday in a trial in which the defendant, Daniel Bellegarde, a resident of Homestead, Fla., allegedly bilked the Federal Emergency Management Agency of more than $11,000. The case is the first federal trial to arise out of alleged disaster relief fraud in Miami-Dade County in the wake of Hurricane Frances.

A jury of seven men and five women were sworn in, some of whom told the court they had suffered property damage during hurricane Andrew but not during Frances.

Bellegarde allegedly filed false claims with FEMA saying that his home and furnishings were damaged by flood waters contaminated by raw sewage. He was among 14 people a federal grand jury accused of disaster relief fraud in a series of indictments in March.

Even though Dade County experienced no hurricane conditions when Frances hit land in Martin County, FEMA gave out more than $31 million to almost 13,000 Miami-Dade residents. In total, the indictments allege about $150,000 in fraudulent FEMA payments, but the investigation continues.

In related cases, two women from South Miami-Dade County-Quiana Riggins and Lesley Johnson-have been sentenced to probation after pleading guilty. Eight people await sentencing, and three other cases are pending.