Tavonte Donnell Stewart, age 23, from Chicago, Illinois, has been charged with one count of derecho benefits fraud. The charge is contained in a complaint unsealed today in United States District Court in Cedar Rapids.
The complaint alleges that, on or about September 15, 2020, Stewart applied for disaster benefits from FEMA arising out of the severe derecho storm in Iowa on August 10, 2020. Stewart is alleged to have claimed in his application that his primary residence at the time of the derecho was in Cedar Rapids, when in truth he was residing in the Chicago area where he was on federal supervised release for a felony counterfeiting conviction. When FEMA contacted a representative of a property management firm about the address in Cedar Rapids, the manager stated that the property in question was not occupied at the time of the storm and had suffered only minor roof damage from the derecho.
If convicted, Stewart faces a possible maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and five years of supervised release.
Stewart appeared today in federal court in Chicago and was held without bond. Stewart’s next appearance for a detention hearing is set for December 23, 2020.
As with any criminal case, a charge is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tim Vavricek and was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. Court file information at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl. The case file number is 20-CR-114.
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