Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Houston Woman Charged with Filing False Hurricane Claims


Following Hurricane Ike's destructive path through Texas a couple of weeks ago, I urged all affected residents to file their insurance claims immediately. Those who provide accurate and thorough records in a timely fashion have the best chance to receive the compensation they desperately need during such a challenging time. However, perhaps I also should have mentioned that you SHOULD NOT file a claim if you survived the hurricane without any damage to your property. False claims are frowned upon by state and federal authorities, and could result in a lengthy amount of time living in a prison cell (which, on the plus side, is probably pretty secure in a hurricane). Phyllis Ann Taylor is learning the consequences of lying to federal agents this week in a Houston courtroom.

Ms. Taylor filed a false claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on September 13, the day that Hurricane Ike made landfall, claiming damage to her primary residence in Galveston. She certainly was a prepared resident, having that paperwork ready to go practically as soon as the first wind gust approached her home (wherever that may be ... she doesn't live at the address she provided in her claim). As it turns out, Taylor was a seasoned veteran with the process of filing FEMA claims. According to the 16-count indictment she is now facing, Ms. Taylor also made at least seven false claims following Hurricane Katrina and five more after Rita. She used different social security numbers, slightly altered versions of her name, and false addresses to steal money from the federal government.

Following other instances of fraud stemming from Katrina, Congress passed a statute concerning disaster-assistance fraud. Ms. Taylor may now brag to her friends that she is the first person to be charged under this new law. She also has been charged with eight counts of mail fraud and seven counts of aggravated identity theft related to her actions after Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf in 2005. If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Are you battling some honest problems concerning the collection of your insurance claims? If you have filed the details of your damage and you are not getting the response you need from the government or your insurance agency, please contact us at Bertolino LLP for help. We have experienced attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio ready to help you collect what you deserve.

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