Woman pleads guilty to $77K FEMA fraud in connection with Paradise Camp Fire
Deborah Laughlin, 64, formerly of Paradise, pleaded guilty Monday to making false statements in an application for FEMA benefits in connection with the 2018 Paradise Camp Fire, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced in a news release.
According to court documents, FEMA provided disaster benefits to certain qualified individuals whose primary residence was damaged or destroyed in the Camp Fire. On Nov. 15, 2018, Laughlin falsely claimed 7209 Skyway, Apt 18 in Paradise, as her primary residence at the time of the Camp Fire. In fact, at the time of the Camp Fire, other individuals were renting and residing in the mobile home located at this address. Based on her false statement, she received $7,886 to replace essential items damaged by the disaster and $1,788 for two months of rental assistance. In addition, Laughlin received temporary housing from FEMA in a manufactured home from June 24, 2019, until April 7, 2021. The money and housing Laughlin received caused an actual loss to the United States of at least $77,249.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shelley D. Weger is prosecuting the case.
Laughlin is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb on Dec. 20, 2021. Laughlin faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the federal sentencing guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
Members of the public who suspect fraud involving disaster relief efforts, including California wildfires or COVID-19 relief efforts, or who believe they have been a victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 866-720-5721. Alternatively, information can be submitted via email to DHSOIGHotline@dhs.gov.
Source: The US Department of Justice
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