Jefferson County Man Guilty of FEMA Fraud for Hurricane Harvey Payments

Published 5:09 pm Monday, October 25, 2021

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BEAUMONT, Texas – A Beaumont man has pleaded guilty to hurricane-related fraud in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei today.

Ricky Gonzales, 61, pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefits today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christine L. Stetson.

According to information presented in court, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas in August 2017, causing extensive damage to the region.  Gonzales applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for damage to a residence in Mauriceville, which he claimed was his primary residence.  Gonzales received approximately $35,000 as a result of his claim.  This residence, however, was actually rented and occupied by Gonzales’ daughter, who also applied for FEMA assistance.  Her application was denied because of the duplicate applications for the same address.  In order to receive FEMA funds, the applicant must use the property as their primary residence.  Rental income properties are not eligible for FEMA funds.

Gonzales was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 8, 2021.  He faces up to 30 years in federal prison.  The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.  A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

“FEMA relief funds are intended to assist Americans who have been affected by life-changing disasters, not as a publicly-funded handout for unscrupulous fraudsters,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.  “EDTX will protect the integrity of these relief programs, and the interests of the American taxpayer, by vigorously prosecuting anyone who attempts to steal disaster relief funds.”

This case is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Grove.