While thousands of residents in Port Arthur and across Southeast Texas endured hardship and headaches from Hurricane Rita, one Houston man only pretended to have damage in order to scam money from the federal government.
Bob Allen Hayes Jr. pleaded guilty to charges of hurricane related fraud Jan. 14 before U.S. District Judge Earl Hines in the Beaumont Division of the Eastern District of Texas.
Hayes, 32, was indicted in September 2007, two years after Rita tore through the Golden Triangle. He was charged with making a materially false statement to the Federal Emergency Management Agency when he filed for federal disaster relief.
According to information presented in court, Hayes claimed his primary residence in Port Arthur and his personal property sustained damage during Hurricane Rita. He fraudulently received around $20,000 in disaster assistance from his claims.
In fact, Hayes did not live at the residence in Port Arthur during the storm and did not suffer losses which entitled him to receive FEMA assistance. An investigation revealed that the residence in question was owned by the Port Author Housing Authority and was vacant at the time of the storm.
The $20,000 scam could cost Hayes up to $250,000 in fines and up to five years of his life in federal prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
In September 2005, the Attorney General's Office created the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, designed to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft, procurement fraud and insurance fraud.
The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force Ã¯Â¿Â½ chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division Ã¯Â¿Â½ includes members of the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, among others.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Hobbs.