Man who scammed hurricane-stricken small Louisiana town for $ 600,000 by claiming FEMA foot the bill for his recovery work risks up to three decades behind bars, the US Department of Justice said on Friday .
Clarence “Billy” Burkette was indicted on December 16 by a federal grand jury with several counts of wire fraud for allegedly misrepresenting his services in the St. Tammany Parish Hamlet of Pearl River, where approximately 2,600 people live.
Prosecutors said the 53-year-old entrepreneur from the parish town of East Feliciana, Slaughter, convinced Pearl River leaders to hire him to repair damage from Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Isaac, saying the The Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse most, if not all, of the cost.
But officials say once the city tried to claim those refunds, elected officials realized they had been duped.
According to the account set out in the indictment, Burkette formed the company which became a vehicle for his multi-year scam in February 2010. Called Global Disaster Recovery Building Services, the company claimed to specialize in helping cities. to identify and secure the public money for disaster repairs.
The indictment traces the fraud back to 2016, when Global Disaster Recovery landed a contract with Pearl River to secure federal reimbursement for relief projects.
Over the next two years, prosecutors said they identified 62 invoices that Burkette submitted to the city for a combined amount of $ 629,761 and certain changes in the services he claimed to have provided under the contract of disaster relief. The city paid him the vast majority of these bills: $ 598,196.25 in total.
When it came time to fundraise with FEMA, however, the reimbursement fell considerably short of what Burkette would have promised.
From August 2017 to March 2019, according to authorities, FEMA only covered $ 9,215 of what the city paid Burkette. From November 2017 to March 2019, officials say FEMA only paid $ 76,766.
The indictment goes on to describe Burkette’s extraordinary efforts to put an end to the scheme.
From early 2016 to spring 2018, prosecutors claim that Burkette devised a way to deceive Pearl River through a wide array of lies of omission as well as “false and fraudulent promises, pretexts and representations.” As part of his carefully crafted deception, officials say he misrepresented the amount FEMA would cover by citing the agency’s 100% refund policy, which was unique in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina but not subsequent storms.
Officials say he lied about the city’s need to hand over a bunch of money up front for income taxes, which he never paid. He also reportedly overestimated his importance to the city council of aldermen, claiming in a March 28, 2016 meeting that he had “led the state” in disaster recovery efforts and “developed many programs that ‘they are currently using’.
At the same meeting in 2016, Burkette reportedly convinced the Alderman Council to hire him to lead FEMA training courses for elected officials who he said were mandatory for federal reimbursement. The indictment says he billed the city over $ 4,000 for the classes, knowing full well that they were in no way tied to the amount FEMA would reimburse.
Prosecutors say Burkette lied about the cost tracking methodology and led Pearl River executives to believe FEMA would reimburse up to $ 5 million when all said and done.
Asked by the council of aldermen at a meeting in March 2017 about the discrepancies between its high pitch and FEMA’s relatively insignificant payment, the indictment indicates that Burkette assured them that “everyone has it. always recovered “.
After this public confrontation, the indictment describes Burkette as still having the nerve to ask the city to pay the unpaid bills to pay the taxes he never filed.
Investigators say Burkette’s idle flight left them with plenty of evidence: invoices, emails, minutes of public meetings.
The indictment cites three “writings, signs and signals” that the federal government presented as evidence of wire fraud and money laundering. Two are large city deposits in Burkette’s company bank account, a third is an email he sent to a Pearl River official that misrepresented the amount of his bills that FEMA would cover.
Announcing the charges on Friday, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana noted that the indictment simply alleges the crimes and that Burkette is presumed innocent until his guilt is proven beyond all else. reasonable doubt.
If convicted, however, Burkette faces up to 30 years in federal prison, up to five years of supervised release, and up to $ 1 million in fines and costs on each of the three counts. electronic fraud.