Jacksonville, Florida – Senior U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger today sentenced Deannajo White (39, Suwannee County) to 24 months in federal prison for disaster assistance fraud. The Court also ordered White to pay $15,331.74 in restitution to FEMA. White, a 19-time convicted felon, had pleaded guilty on January 24, 2020.
According to court documents, on September 27, 2017, White, while in Suwannee County, made an application for disaster assistance benefits to FEMA over the internet. In the application, White falsely claimed that her primary residence in Branford, Florida had suffered storm damage due to Hurricane Irma, when a tree fell through the roof, forcing her to leave the residence and begin living at a rental property in Branford. White subsequently contacted FEMA and falsely stated that she had moved to a different rental property with a higher rent. White submitted multiple documents to FEMA in support of her application, including rent receipts, leases, and letters.
On August 13, 2019, law enforcement officers interviewed White about her disaster assistance application. During the interview, she repeatedly lied to agents. When confronted with evidence showing that she had lied on her disaster assistance application, White admitted to making false statements on her application. She also admitted to submitting multiple false documents to FEMA to include fraudulent rent receipts and leases.
“It is especially offensive for someone to commit disaster assistance fraud because so many in our communities were in desperate need of that relief,” said HSI Jacksonville Assistant Special Agent in Charge K. Jim Phillips. “This case highlights the importance the Department of Homeland Security places on the integrity of disaster assistance programs.”
This case is part of the United States Attorney’s Disaster Fraud Task Force, which was announced in September 2017. This case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office, and the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kevin C. Frein.
Members of the public who suspect fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, or believe they have been the 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 or complete the online complaint form by visiting www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.