Man who was in prison during Katrina pleads guilty to disaster relief fraud

Published 5:34 pm Friday, September 8, 2006

A man who submitted claims for Hurricane Katrina relief despite being in a federal prison the day the storm hit last year has pleaded guilty to fraud, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton said Thursday.

Tommy Bingham was in custody at Federal Correctional Institute Yazoo in central Mississippi when the deadly storm struck on Aug. 29, 2005.

Bingham was released from prison two days after the storm and then used a false address to submit a claim to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Lampton said.

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“Bingham admitted using a false Biloxi, Mississippi address in order to receive disaster relief benefits from FEMA,” Lampton said in a news release.

Bingham recieved $4,358 from FEMA, even though he had been serving a one-year prison sentence for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine at the time of the storm, Lampton said.

Lampton said Bingham faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the fraud charges.

The announcement comes just one week after four others in Mississippi pleaded guilty to using false addresses to make FEMA claims.

The number of such cases is expected to grow as investigators follow the millions of dollars that was sent to the Gulf Coast after the storm.

The Katrina Fraud Task Force, which was formed as part of a national initiative to crack down on misuse of public money, has been sifting though cases that send up red flags. The local task force in made up of 20 different federal and state agencies.

More than 400 people in 30 judicial districts have been charged with storm-related fraud since Katrina struck, and the list of offenders includes a prison guard, FEMA employees and contractors working to clear debris on the hard hit Gulf Coast.