Gulfport, Mississippi Ex-Mayor Gets Probation Deal for Katrina Fraud

September 28, 2009

Former Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr has been sentenced to probation in a plea deal on Hurricane Katrina fraud charges that let him and his wife walk out of court with no prison time.

Warr pleaded guilty in U.S. District County in Gulfport to one felony count for receiving disaster money that the Federal Emergency Management Agency said he wasn’t entitled to, Warr’s attorney, Joe Sam Owen, told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors dropped 19 other charges against Brent Warr and all 20 against his wife, Laura. Brent Warr was sentenced to three years probation and was ordered to pay $9,558 in restitution.

The Warrs were accused of seeking a homeowners assistance grant for a house they owned but did not live in. They were also accused of making false claims to their insurance company.

Warr, who was the highest ranking public official accused of defrauding the government after the 2005 storm, didn’t seek re-election this year after his first term.

Owen said he’s pleased the Warrs “walked out of the courtroom and can put it behind them and move on with their two young children.”

Owen has said the charges arose from a misunderstanding about the Warrs’ living arrangements and a beachfront home they were renovating when the storm hit Aug. 29, 2005.

The government had claimed Brent Warr lied when he told FEMA that a home on Beach Drive was his family’s primary residence, and that it was “fully complete, furnished, and occupied at the time of Hurricane Katrina.”

Prosecutors say the family wasn’t living in the home. Owen has said Warr bought the house in 2004 and was almost finished with renovations when the storm blew ashore. Brent Warr was already staying there some nights, Owen said.

The Warrs faced up to 210 years in prison and $4 million in fines had they been convicted on all counts, though maximum sentences are rarely imposed in such cases.

The charges included conspiracy to defraud the federal government, making false statements to the FEMA and insurance fraud.

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