Local News

Fayetteville woman pleads guilty to oil spill-related fraud

Posted February 1, 2011 2:03 p.m. EST

— A Fayetteville woman has pleaded guilty to using her dead sister's identity to submit a claim to the fund set up to compensate people affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Charlette Johnson, 41, pleaded guilty to two counts of submitting false claims to a federal agency, eight
counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. She will be sentenced later.

“When someone seeks to profit from tragic disasters and attempts to trade on other peoples’ misfortune for personal gain through lies and deceit, they will be held to account for their actions,” U.S. Attorney George Holding said in a statement.

According to an indictment, someone using the name Sabrina Conner submitted a claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Fund Facility in August, saying she had been laid off from P&J Oyster Co. in New Orleans after the spill last April. The company president told auditors that the pay stubs that were submitted to the compensation fund were bogus and that he had never heard of Sabrina Conner or the person whose name was on a termination letter that had been submitted to the fund.

Federal investigators determined that Sabrina Conner died in Phenix City, Ala., on May 13 and that she had relatives in the Fayetteville area. They were able to link Johnson to the scheme.

Johnson was the first person in the country to be charged with submitting a false claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Fund Facility.

She also submitted false claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief related to Hurricane Katrina and wildfires in California, according to the indictment.

One false claim was for rental assistance and property damage caused by Katrina to a home in New Orleans that she never owned and in which she never lived. The other false claim, in the name of her sister, was for rental assistance and property damage caused by wildfires to a home in Malibu, Calif., that neither she nor her sister had ever owned and in which neither woman had ever lived.