(STL.News) – United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announces the return of an indictment charging Bernita Willette Carswell (36, Jacksonville) with disaster assistance fraud related to Hurricane Irma. If convicted, Carswell faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison, plus payment of restitution to the United States. Carswell made her initial appearance in federal court on January 15, 2020. Her arraignment is set for January 22, 2020.
According to the indictment, in September 2017, when submitting an application for assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individuals and Households Program for Hurricane Irma, Carswell falsified records concerning damage to her primary residence and the need to move to a rental property in Jacksonville.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
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. It will be 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. A live operator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week staffs the telephone line.