Woman sentenced to federal prison for hurricane fraud

Marilyn Tennissen Jun. 12, 2007, 11:00am

Sherri Harris rode out Hurricane Rita in the comfort of the Calcasieu Parish Jail, but that did not stop her from filing a FEMA claim for damage to a home in Dayton.

The fraudulent claim resulted in a seven month stint in federal prison for Harris. U.S. District Judge presided over the sentencing hearing June 12 in the Eastern District of Texas.

Court documents said Harris, 37, said Rita damaged her residence in Dayton and filed a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. An investigation revealed that there was no such damage and that Harris did not live at the residence. She was actually in jail in Lake Charles, La., at the time of the hurricane.

Harris was indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 18 and charged with making a materially false statement to FEMA. She pleaded guilty to the charges on March 29.

In September 2005, the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force was created to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft, procurement fraud and insurance fraud. The task force includes members of the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.

This Harris case is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Henderson.

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