Former City Official Admits to Hurricane Michael Fraud

North Carolina residents may be aware that federal investigators uncovered a scheme involving senior officials defrauding the federal government and a Florida city out of millions of dollars during the Hurricane Michael cleanup effort. US attorneys announced on July 14 that the last remaining defendant to be indicted in connection with the scheme has agreed to plead guilty to a single count of wire fraud. The man committed his crimes while he was serving as Lynn County’s community services director. He faces a custodial sentence of up to 20 years when he is sentenced.

Fake invoices and falsified time sheets

The man admitted to certifying and approving invoices for debris removal work that was never performed. Federal prosecutors say that he conspired with the city manager to ensure that the fake invoices were not questioned and paid quickly. The two companies retained by the city to perform the cleanup work also submitted falsified timesheets, according to court documents. The fraud is said to have cost taxpayers about $5 million. Instead of working to repair hurricane damage, employees from one of the companies hired by the city were tasked with repairing and cleaning the homes of officials, including the mayor and city attorney; wrapping Christmas gifts; and setting up a Halloween party.

False statements and then guilty pleas

During the investigation, which was conducted by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the man made false statements to conceal the fraud. The other four defendants indicted by a federal grand jury have already pleaded guilty. They include the city’s former manager and the owners of the two companies involved. In addition to a lengthy custodial sentence, the man could be fined as much as $250,000. Prosecutors say that he has vowed to return the money he received as a result of the fraud.

A plea deal is sometimes the best option

The federal penalties for committing white-collar crimes can be harsh, and within the federal correctional system, there is no parole. If you are charged with crimes like fraud or embezzlement by US attorneys, and the evidence against you is compelling, experienced criminal defense lawyers may advise you to consider entering into a negotiated plea agreement. Attorneys could make this suggestion vigorously if individuals accused of being your coconspirators have already pleaded guilty.

Source: United States Department of Justice, “Last Conspirator Pleads Guilty In $5 Million Fraud Over Hurricane Michael Cleanup In Lynn Haven,” David Horton, July 14, 2020

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