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3 coast residents plead guilty in fraud case

Federal prosecutors say three Gautier residents have pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the government in obtaining Hurricane Katrina disaster benefits.

U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton Tuesday identified the three charged as Edward Rice, Catherine Rice and Sonya Bartholomew. Their pleas were entered during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett in Gulfport.

The fraud involved part of the Katrina recovery program in which the state Marine Resources agency administered fishing programs funded by federal agencies.

Commercial fishermen who held licenses before Katrina were eligible to be accepted into the contract program in which participants would be paid $160 per day for each day of fishing and reporting bycatch and harvest data.

The defendants each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.