3 more arrested for homeowner grant fraud

Published 6:20 pm Friday, April 20, 2007

Three more people were arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court on charges of homeowner grant fraud.

Disera F. Desselles, and Joseph and Debbie Pugh, were charged with filing false claims for disaster assistance after Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton said in a news release.

A federal grand jury returned indictments against the trio. Seven others, whose names were released last week, also have been charged with similar crimes. Six had been arrested and a seventh, Dominic T. Leperi of Rockville, Md., was scheduled to turn himself in and appear before a judge April 23.

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The Pughs, of Diamondhead, were charged with 12 counts of filing a false claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, making false statements to the Mississippi Development Authority, Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, theft of government funds, mail and wire fraud.

If convicted, Joseph Pugh faces up to 90 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. Debbie Pugh faces up to 15 years in prison and $510,000 in fines.

Desselles faces nine counts of filing false claims to FEMA and the MDA, theft of government funds, and mail and wire fraud.

If convicted, Desselles faces up to 125 years in prison and $6 million in fines.

The first phase of Mississippi’s Katrina homeowner grant program provides up to $150,000 in federal money to people whose homes were destroyed by the August 2005 storm. The homes had to be insured and they had to be outside what was then the federally designated flood zone.

Those indicted are accused of making claims at addresses where they didn’t live.

The MDA, the state’s economic development agency, administers the homeowner grant program. More than $840 million has been distributed among nearly 13,000 homeowners. State officials said 14,930 were eligible.