Federal investigations into fraud related to California wildfires are ongoing
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Oct 30 (Punjab Mail)- A federal grand jury returned two indictments today separately charging Cynthia Seeley, 66, of Magalia, and Kristen Canapary, 53, of Butte County, with making false statements in an application for FEMA benefits in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
“These indictments are the result of ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute a variety of disaster related frauds, including fraudulent claims for disaster assistance,” U.S. Attorney Scott said. “In 2018, in the aftermath of the Carr and Camp Fires, we encouraged the public to report any suspected fraudulent activity and promised to aggressively pursue and prosecute fraud and abuse. As California continues to be affected by wildfires, we stand by that commitment, and want to remind those who would try to fraudulently profit from the situation, that the U.S. Attorney’s Office together with the federal law enforcement will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute disaster fraud.”
Following the 2018 Camp and Carr Fires, FEMA assistance was available to individuals who, as a result of the fires, had emergency needs for food, shelter, and personal items. To qualify for certain benefits, an individual’s primary residence—the place where the individual resided at the time of the fire—had to have been destroyed or damaged by the fire, among other eligibility criteria.
According to court documents, Seeley and Canapary each filed a fraudulent claim with FEMA seeking disaster assistance. They falsely claimed a primary residence that was not their true residence at the time of the fire. Seeley falsely claimed she rented a residence located at 13756 Eureka Road in Magalia and received $11,604.79 in cash benefits from FEMA. Canapary falsely claimed that she rented a home located at 1555 Sylvan Way in Paradise, and received $8,973.05 in cash benefits as well as temporary housing provided by FEMA. Seeley and Canapary are each charged with one count of fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefits.
These indictments are the result of ongoing investigations into disaster fraud related to the California wildfires. In December 2019, six defendants were indicted for making a false statement about their primary residence in an application for FEMA assistance in connection with the Camp Fire: Patrick Prigmore, 2:19-cr-226; Daniel Connelly, 2:19-cr-223; Evan Palmer, 19-cr-225; Deborah Laughlin, 2:19-cr-229; Kristy Marie Tapp, 19-cr-227; and Andrew Keffer, 19-cr-228. Prigmore and Connelly have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. The whereabouts of Kristy Marie Tapp, 34, and Andrew Keffer, 44, are unknown. If anyone has information about Keffer’s or Tapp’s whereabouts, they can call DHS-OIG’s duty line at (619) 235-2514. The charges against Tapp, Keffer, Palmer, and Laughlin are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
These cases are the result of investigations by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shelley Weger is prosecuting the cases.
If convicted, Seeley and Canapary, each face a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would 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. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 20 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the NCDF, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.
California residents are encouraged to watch for and report any suspicious activity or potential fraud from scam artists, identity thieves, and other criminals who may try to prey on vulnerable survivors of the California fires or the various programs assisting survivors. Anyone with knowledge of fraud, waste, or abuse may call the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721. You may also send an email to [email protected].