Ex-FEMA worker charged with fraud

JACKSON — A former Federal Emergency Management Agency employee and her cousin have been charged with allegedly stealing more than $721,000 in Hurricane Katrina money that was meant for storm victims.

Former FEMA worker Lashonda Booker and her cousin, Peggy Hilton, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud Jan. 8 in a criminal information in U.S District Court in southern Mississippi. A criminal information is a charge filed by prosecutors without a grand jury indictment.

Booker had no comment when contacted Monday by telephone at her home in Moss Point. Hilton could not immediately be located and Booker would not provide her phone number. Booker also wouldn’t say if the women have lawyers.

Booker, who worked in FEMA’s Biloxi office, is accused of using the National Emergency Management Information System, a government database, to get information about storm victims who applied for assistance. She allegedly passed that information along to Hilton. Hilton used the information to get FEMA to send the money to a different bank account, one “Hilton controlled,” according to court documents.

Booker and Hilton allegedly recruited the help of their family members and friends, who allowed the money to be deposited in to their bank accounts. Then they would divide the money, the information said.

Booker already worked for FEMA when she was transferred to the Biloxi office in Jan. 2006, “where her duties included the processing of Katrina disaster assistance claims, including home replacement and rental assistance applications,” the information said.

Prosecutors said the scheme continued until May of this past year.

Three victims in court records were listed only by their initials. The amount of money diverted from them was a total of nearly $58,000. Court records did not say how many other victims’ information was used.

A FEMA spokesman did not immediately respond to questions, including how many alleged victims there were and if they eventually got their money.

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