Georgia Man Filed Over 15 False FEMA Claims, Charged with Fraud

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A Georgia man used multiple identities, Social Security numbers and addresses to make a variety of fraudulent relief claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, say authorities.

Desima James claimed to have survived three hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, a tornado in Indiana, and a New Hampshire flood—all in 2005 and 2006.

After filing the false claims, James received a total of 15 checks from the federal agency, totaling more than $30,000. His career of swindling the government began during the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina, in September 2005. James’s original claim to FEMA, say prosecutors, was legitimate, but it was denied because his New Orleans apartment sustained little damage.

The 30-year-old then moved to Atlanta, and began filing more emergency-relief claims with FEMA under a variety of names. Part of the reason that these claims were granted, and checks issued to the con man, is the fact that FEMA was working very hard to get money to the victims of the hurricane and the ensuing floods, which left many people homeless and bereft.

Many of James’s claims were made through a toll-free hotline that FEMA had set up. Since the information he gave for each claim varied, it was more difficult for authorities to realize that they were in fact duplicates.

After Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Gulf Coast, James said that he had been hit while living in Beaumont, Texas. He also was a victim of Hurricane Wilma in Florida. Additionally, he suffered from the effects of strong storms that resulted in floods in New Hampshire, as well as a tornado and storms in Indiana.

According to authorities, James had a history of criminal activity, mostly in the area of fraud and forgery charges; in fact, when the indictment was handed down for the FEMA fraud, he was already in jail on separate charges.

FEMA was widely criticized following Hurricane Katrina for its mismanagement of the disaster, but defends its actions in granting monies to swindlers such as James, citing the chaotic atmosphere that occurred in Katrina’s wake, and the vast number of emergency-relief claims that were made across the country.

James has pleaded not guilty to the crimes, but he could face over 30 years in prison if convicted.

 

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