Georgia Man Pleads Guilty to 30 Claims, Bilking FEMA of $30K

June 30, 2010

A Georgia man pleaded guilty this week to charges that he bilked the government out of more than $30,000 by claiming he suffered through three devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes, a tornado in Indiana and flooding in New Hampshire — all while living in Atlanta.

Prosecutors charged Desima James, 30, with filling more than 30 false claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in five states from September to December 2005 from his metro Atlanta home.

James, 30, faces a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of $250,000 after he pleaded guilty to a mail fraud charge.

“He filed over 30 fraudulent claims with FEMA, using different names, fake social security numbers, and various addresses to escape detection and steal over $30,000 in disaster relief that was intended for real victims,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “He now faces federal prison for his dishonesty and deceit.”

Dozens of people have faced charges of defrauding the government in the aftermath of storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which pummeled New Orleans in August 2005. And some stole far more money than James is accused of receiving.

But authorities say few scam artists were as prolific as James, who is accused of using a variety of fake addresses, names and Social Security numbers and received 15 checks in all. Prosecutors said many of the man’s claims went through FEMA’s toll-free hot line, and he fooled administrators by using different information for each one.

James actually lived in a New Orleans apartment when Katrina struck, and filed a claim, but FEMA denied it because his place sustained very little damage, prosecutors said. After the storm, he came to Atlanta and officials said he filed a new round of Katrina-related claims under phony addresses.

He also reported he was a victim of Hurricane Rita in Beaumont, Texas, and claimed to have suffered through Hurricane Wilma in Florida; strong storms and flooding in New Hampshire; and a tornado and severe storms in Indiana, investigators said.

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