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Deontres Javan Taylor of Jacksonville, FL, Arrested for Attempting to Defraud FEMA of Hurricane Irma Benefits

pexels-photo-753619-300x169The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida has announced that a Jacksonville man accused of lying about damage caused by Hurricane Irma was indicted this week.

Deontre Javan Taylor, 26, was charged with disaster assistance fraud and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. It is unclear if he has acquired the services of an attorney.

According to federal prosecutors, Taylor is accused of falsifying records concerning his primary residence in Jacksonville when he submitted an application for assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He was seeking federal assistance to repair his home, which was destroyed after the passage of Hurricane Irma, the indictment states. It is not clear what exactly he was duplicitous about in the records; such cases sometimes involve parties who exaggerate the damage to their homes in order to receive extra aid.

Cases like Taylor’s aren’t uncommon; two more incidents of suspected fraud involving FEMA funds were reported in Jacksonville last week. Bernita Willette Carswell of Jacksonville and Deannajo White of Suwannee County were indicted by federal prosecutors in separate cases for allegedly submitting false claims for FEMA benefits related to Irma.

Carswell, 36, and White, 39, were both charged with disaster assistance fraud. The press did not name attorneys for them.

According to the indictments, Carswell and White are accused of submitting applications for assistance to FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program for Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Both women allegedly falsified records concerning their primary residences when they submitted their applications. Carswell purportedly falsified information concerning damage to her home and the need to move to a rental property in Jacksonville.

Disaster relief assistance is often abused because government agencies like FEMA are pressed to use their resources quickly with inadequate oversight. FEMA provides relief after major natural disasters to assist with repairs, perform cleanups, and help individuals who are affected. In the rush to provide aid, the agency may not be as careful in vetting the people it helps, which can lead to fraud against the government.

Hurricane Irma struck Florida on September 4, 2017 and caused approximately $50 billion in damage throughout the state. FEMA approved 774,691 individual assistance applications from Florida residents for damage caused by the hurricane. The agency set aside $1.02 billion for its Individual & Households Program.

Disaster fraud is defined as the deliberate act to defraud the government after a catastrophe. Federal agents use a number of methods to detect fraud, including using an automated system to cross-check information provided in applications with other agencies, and field inspections to verify the damages and losses for every individual who applies for individual assistance.

Filing a false claim with FEMA is a felony with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, in addition to restitution payments to the federal government. Members of the public who suspect fraud, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief funds should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

South Florida Fraud Attorney

If you are involved in a fraud case, then you should hire an attorney. Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced fraud attorneys.