Bernita Willette Carswell (36, Jacksonville) Pleads Guilty To Submitting False Claims For FEMA Benefits Involving Hurricane Irma

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Jacksonville, Florida – Bernita Willette Carswell (36, Jacksonville) pleaded guilty to disaster assistance fraud involving FEMA benefits. She faces up to 30 years in federal prison and payment of restitution to the United States in the amount of $15,024.80. Carswell was arrested on January 15, 2020.

According to court documents, on September 13, 2017, Carswell made an application online for disaster assistance to FEMA. In the application, she claimed that her primary residence in Jacksonville suffered storm damage, that she was displaced from her primary residence, and that she was forced to move to a rental property in Jacksonville. In support of her application for benefits, she submitted a lease agreement for the rental property in Jacksonville.

In reliance on the statements made by Carswell in her application and the lease agreement, FEMA paid Carswell rental assistance totaling $15,024.80.

Investigation by the Department of Homeland Security-Office of Inspector General determined that Carswell’s statements to FEMA were false. Her residence in Jacksonville was not damaged, she lived there through and after Hurricane Irma, and the lease agreement she had submitted to FEMA was fraudulent.

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 Jacksonville Office. It is being 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. You can also fax information to the Center at (225) 334-4707, or email it to disaster@leo.gov. You may also visit www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl.

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