Steven Rembert, 48, of Orange County, is charged with disaster assistance fraud related to Hurricane Irma. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in federal prison, sources indicate. The press did not name an attorney for him.
According to the indictment, in September 2017, Rembert allegedly falsified records about his home when he submitted an application for assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The indictment accuses him of knowingly making “materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation” in matters involving the disbursement of FEMA benefits to individuals affected by Hurricane Irma.
There have been several fraud indictments of this kind since Hurricane Irma struck Florida and caused widespread destruction along its path in September 2017. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation estimates that more than one million Irma claims have been filed since September 2017, totally almost $17.8 billion in insured losses. The deadline for making claims related damage caused by Hurricane Irma recently passed on September 12, 2020.
In early September 2020, a Florida couple was arrested for allegedly making fraudulent claims related to Irma. Christina Lynn Catalano, 38, was charged with disaster assistance fraud regarding Hurricane Irma. Her husband, Joseph Samuel Catalano, 54, was charged with making false statements to federal agents to conceal such fraud. If convicted, Christina Catalano faces a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in prison, while Joseph Catalano faces a penalty of up to 5 years in prison. It is unclear if they acquired legal representation.
Christina Catalano is accused of falsely claiming that a fictitious travel trailer was destroyed by the hurricane when she filed for assistance to FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. Joseph Catalano was found complicit after the couple allegedly lied to the Department of Homeland Security investigators earlier this year in order to conceal the alleged fraud.
In March 2020, a Jacksonville woman pleaded guilty to lying about damage caused by the hurricane. Bernita Willette Carswell, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of disaster assistance fraud. Carswell allegedly filed an application for disaster assistance benefits to FEMA in September 2017. According to court documents, she falsely claimed that her home in Jacksonville was damaged by the hurricane, forcing her to stay in a rental property. FEMA purportedly paid her $15,000 in rental assistance.
Anyone who suspects fraud, abuse, or allegations of disaster relief programs, or believes they have experienced fraud from an individual or entity soliciting relief funds on behalf of those impacted by a disaster are encouraged to contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721.
A fraud charge involving disaster relief programs is a serious offense with life-altering consequences. If you are suspected of committing fraud in Florida, then you should immediately retain legal counsel. A good attorney can review the allegations filed against you and help you craft a winning defense.
South Florida Fraud Defense Attorney