JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Brent Warr, the mayor of Gulfport, Miss., has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he attempted to defraud the Federal Government after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Warr allegedly filed a false claim for disaster assistance, made false statements to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stole government funds and committed insurance fraud. His wife Laura has also been charged.
The indictments, unsealed Wednesday, are the result of a joint investigation by state Auditor Stacey Pickering's Katrina Fraud Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the OIG-Housing and Urban Development.
"The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina will not ever be forgotten by Mississippians and those around the world. As with any proven government fraud, no one is above the law, and I am committed to assisting in the prosecution of those convicted to the fullest extent of the law," Pickering said.
The indictment says Warr obtained $222,798 as a result of his scheme. If convicted on all 16 counts of the indictment, Warr would face 210 years in prison and $4 million in fines.
The indictment says the Warrs made false statements (like place of residence) to receive disaster assistance benefits from FEMA and HUD.
In Nov. 2005, the Warrs met with a FEMA inspector at 1814 Beach Drive in Gulfport to show damage done to the house there.
"(T)he defendants filed a disaster assistance claim in which they represented that at the time of Hurricane Katrina, they were living at 1814 Beach Drive, Gulfport, Mississippi, when in truth and in fact at the times of Hurricane Katrina they were not living (there)," the indictment says.
Warr pleaded not guilty.
"My fundamental mission as mayor, since Aug. 29, 2005, has been to return this city to greatness, and today Gulfport is absolutely on the right track to greatness," Warr said in a statement.
"Understand that what has been alleged toward my wife and me has no connection to me as mayor. This has not and will not change my commitment to the progress and recovery of our city.
"This inquiry has been going on for more than a year now, and we hope and pray for a much faster resolution.
"We have entered a plea of not guilty. Out of respect for the justice system and the government, I will not speak further about the claim made against us.
"I am the mayor of Gulfport and I will continue working to rebuild our city."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.