Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Claims Fraud

Claims Fraud

claims fraud

First fraud case emerges from BP oil spill

By Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY

After fielding hundreds of fraud complaints from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, federal prosecutors filed the first spill-related criminal charges this week against a North Carolina woman whom they allege pretended to be an unemployed oyster shucker to claim lost wages.The National Center for Disaster Fraud in Baton Rouge has logged about 1,000 complaints since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, says U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who oversees the center.The complaints have led to hundreds of investigations into businesses demanding advance fees to help oil spill victims file claims or train for oil spill cleanup jobs, and into dubious charities soliciting donations to rescue wildlife or restore Gulf Coast habitat, Letten says.”With the increasing number of cases under investigation, there will be charges coming down the road,” he says. “We know there are viable investigations out there.”Fraud hurts the credibility of the Gulf Coast claims process, claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg says.”If eligible claimants or the public believe that the program is ripe for fraud, we’ll receive claims without merit that tie up the system, that divert badly needed funds from worthy victims to criminals, and the entire program will suffer,” Feinberg says. “There are scores of suspicious claims that we have sent or are sending to the Department of Justice. 

In the first investigation to produce a criminal charge, prosecutors say Charlotte Johnson, of Fayetteville, N.C., used a fake name to claim $15,500 in lost wages. Prosecutors charged her with wire fraud Monday in a federal court in North Carolina, a charge that can carry up to 20 years in prison, court papers say.Johnson told claims processors at the Gulf Coast Claims Facility that she had lost her job at the P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, court papers say. P&J Oyster President Alfred Sunseri told investigators the woman never worked at the company, court records show. Johnson allegedly fabricated a driver’s license, a termination letter and an eviction notice to support her claim.The federal public defenders office, which represented Johnson, declined to comment.The National Center for Disaster Fraud, created in September 2005 to handle fraud complaints after Hurricane Katrina, has processed more than 40,000 complaints from 60 natural and man-made disasters, including Hurricane Rita, the Gulf of Mexico spill and floods in the Midwest, Letten says. Many of the disasters generate similar types of fraud, such as fraudulent assistance claims, identity theft and fake charities. Investigators are especially alert to public corruption, he says, such as elected officials steering city or state contracts to friends or accepting kickbacks.Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer calls prosecuting disaster fraud “a high priority.””We’re simply not going to tolerate criminals preying on disaster victims,” he says. 

After fielding hundreds of fraud complaints from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, federal prosecutors filed the first spill-related criminal charges this week against a North Carolina woman whom they allege pretended to be an unemployed oyster shucker to claim lost wages.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud in Baton Rouge has logged about 1,000 complaints since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, says U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who oversees the center.

The complaints have led to hundreds of investigations into businesses demanding advance fees to help oil spill victims file claims or train for oil spill cleanup jobs, and into dubious charities soliciting donations to rescue wildlife or restore Gulf Coast habitat, Letten says.

“With the increasing number of cases under investigation, there will be charges coming down the road,” he says. “We know there are viable investigations out there.”

Fraud hurts the credibility of the Gulf Coast claims process, claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg says.

“If eligible claimants or the public believe that the program is ripe for fraud, we’ll receive claims without merit that tie up the system, that divert badly needed funds from worthy victims to criminals, and the entire program will suffer,” Feinberg says. “There are scores of suspicious claims that we have sent or are sending to the Department of Justice.”

In the first investigation to produce a criminal charge, prosecutors say Charlotte Johnson, of Fayetteville, N.C., used a fake name to claim $15,500 in lost wages. Prosecutors charged her with wire fraud Monday in a federal court in North Carolina, a charge that can carry up to 20 years in prison, court papers say.

Johnson told claims processors at the Gulf Coast Claims Facility that she had lost her job at the P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, court papers say. P&J Oyster President Alfred Sunseri told investigators the woman never worked at the company, court records show. Johnson allegedly fabricated a driver’s license, a termination letter and an eviction notice to support her claim.

The federal public defenders office, which represented Johnson, declined to comment.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud, created in September 2005 to handle fraud complaints after Hurricane Katrina, has processed more than 40,000 complaints from 60 natural and man-made disasters, including Hurricane Rita, the Gulf of Mexico spill and floods in the Midwest, Letten says. Many of the disasters generate similar types of fraud, such as fraudulent assistance claims, identity theft and fake charities. Investigators are especially alert to public corruption, he says, such as elected officials steering city or state contracts to friends or accepting kickbacks.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer calls prosecuting disaster fraud “a high priority.”

“We’re simply not going to tolerate criminals preying on disaster victims,” he says.

source: First fraud case emerges from BP oil spill / USA Today

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3 Responses to Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Claims Fraud

  1. zade marcrie says:

    This is a joke. BP is using a few articles to point the finger at a few thousand people (oh wait its just one person so far) to redirect the focus away from them for leaving tens of thousands in the lurch.

    Their extremely slow process has left untold numbers of actual victims in precarious financial circumstances with irreparable damages that could have been avoided if BP had acted more swiftly.

    The fact that Kenneth Feinberg is being paid millions by BP makes their proverbial high moral ground stand against fraudsters taking advantage of victims’ suffering seem hypocritical and insincere. You tell us who is benefiting the most from this Feinberg?

    They claim this is all on behalf of the victims, a joke, but if they really cared about the victims they would pay first and ask questions later.

    By all means prosecute the people who commit crimes but common sense tells us the relatively small amount of fraud doesn’t justify any excuses from BP and Feinberg for slow payments and unnecessary suffering caused by the tactics of the ‘independent’ GCCF.

  2. coffeebean02 says:

    I am in the process of filing a business profit and lost claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. I own and run a small Tour Broker business on Bourbon St. in New Orleans. I overnighted my paperwork (14 months worth and a $41.00 tab) to them last Monday and the Facility states that they have not received my documents. No one has returned two phone calls or two e mails (other then to acknowledge that they have received my e mails). My husband sent four weeks worth of paycheck stubs to them (two weeks prior to the spill and two weeks after it) and received a check for $15,000 in four days. There are no guidelines in place to help with this process. There also seems to be no recourse when trying to communicate with them. The system in place now seems to be random and unfair. How can four people working side by side at the same job send in the same paperwork , same amount of time frame worked and one get a check for $15,000, one for $2,000, the third be asked for more supporting documentation and the fourth declined…? I smell a rat, and a big one at that! I believe the Gulf Coast Claims Facility itself needs to be examined for fraud.

  3. Larry Lewis says:

    Speaking of all this fraud and all, I’m wondering now myself as a pervious worker for BP. I worked as an general oil response labor for this staffing agency, who hired us to work and with in two months we were told that the job hard come to an end. However, we all believed it and left in search of new employment. I don’t know how true this is but, I’m hearing BP pulled us off the job before the time of the contract was up. It this is true, can if be considered as any type of fraud on their part? I’m confused cause there were a bunch of people that were employed and could still be making a living for all of our families. Any response to this matter would be greatly be appreicated.

    Thanks

    Larry

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