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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Katrina victims in Oprah homes indicted

Katrina victims in Oprah homes indicted

They are accused of taking FEMA money after moving


Houston Chronicle

Aug. 19, 2009, 1:35PM


Three Hurricane Katrina evacuees who bought houses here with the help of Oprah Winfrey appeared in court today on charges they cheated the Federal Emergency Management Agency by lying to continue to obtain rental assistance for storm victims after they moved into the furnished homes.

The three came to Houston from New Orleans after the storm devastated that city. They received legitimate FEMA help and then were aided by Winfrey's “Oprah's Angel Network,” which provided the financing to allow the storm victims to move into and own new homes.

“Oprah's Angel Network” worked with Habitat for Humanity to build and furnish homes for approximately 65 families, most of whom moved onto Asheburton Springs Drive in southwest Houston, which was subsequently renamed “Angel Lane”

“The response to natural disasters brings out the best and worst in people,” said Houston-based U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson. “Generous acts of charity are tarnished by those who despite the generosity of others, fraudulently make claims for government relief funds. This office will continue its efforts to bring those who make false claims for public funds to justice.”

The trio was charged along with the sister of one of them, who allegedly helped her sibling cheat FEMA.

Darlene McGruder Poole, 30, of Houston, and her sister, Lashona McGruder Victor, 37, of La Place, La., are charged together with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Victor is expected to surrender to law enforcement authorities in Houston by the end of the week, a press release from the U.S. attorney stated.

Kiesha Murphy, 34, of Houston, and Angela Payne, aka Angela McKinnies, 38, of Houston, are each charged in separate indictments with making false statements to FEMA and theft of government property.

After Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, FEMA provided rental assistance payments to displaced individuals. Winfrey visited some of the victims in Houston and through her charitable organization partnered to build and furnish homes.

The indictment against Poole — who had received $23,000 in legitimate assistance after being displaced from her home in New Orleans — continued to submit declarations of need for rental assistance despite her August 2006 purchase of a home on Angel Lane. Poole also claimed to be unemployed though she was working for Harris County.

Her sister, Victor, registered with FEMA as Poole's landlord on Angel Lane and the pair submitted fraudulent lease agreements and fictitious rental receipts to collect $14,000, the government alleges.

Murphy, who received $17,000 in legitimate disaster assistance after being displaced from New Orleans, is also accused of continuing to submit bogus rent receipts after moving onto an Angel Lane home in July 2006. The government alleges she too claimed to be unemployed though she was working for Memorial Hermann. Murphy is accused of wrongfully obtaining more than $12,000 in benefits as a result of fraudulent filings with FEMA.

Payne, also from New Orleans, purchased her home on Angel Lane in July 2006, and is also accused of submitting fraudulent claims for continued rental assistance.

These four charges bring to 94 the number of persons charged in the Southern District of Texas with fraud arising from three hurricanes — Katrina, Rita and Ike.



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