Gulfport, Mississippi Mayor Brent Warr, the highest-ranking public official charged with Hurricane Katrina fraud, made numerous false statements about the living arrangements of his family and a beachfront home damaged by the 2005 storm, federal prosecutors say.
Warr and his wife, Laura, have pleaded not guilty to charges in a 16-count federal indictment accusing them of seeking a homeowners assistance grant for a house they owned but did not live in. They’re also accused of making false claims to their insurance company.
The Warrs’ attorneys had asked a federal judge to order prosecutors to say exactly what allegedly false statements they made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Prosecutors responded in a document Tuesday that Warr lied when he told FEMA the stately home on Beach Drive was the family’s primary residence, three bedrooms were occupied and it was “fully complete, furnished, and occupied at the time of Hurricane Katrina.”
Brent Warr’s attorney, Joe Sam Owen, told The Associated Press soon after the charges were made public in January that the mayor bought the house in 2004 and was almost finished with renovations when the storm blew ashore. Brent Warr was already staying there some nights.
“He was just around the corner from the entire family moving in,” Owen had said.
Prosecutors, however, say Warr told a FEMA inspector that his entire family was living in the home when the storm hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. Gulfport, a coastal city of about 73,000 people, was ravaged.
Owen did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday. Warr issued a statement in January saying the couple “entered a plea of not guilty” and he would not “speak further about the claim made against us.”
Brent Warr, a first-term Republican mayor, was sworn in just weeks before the storm hit and was praised for his leadership. He’s not seeking re-election this year.
The Warrs face up to 210 years in prison and $4 million in fines if convicted on all counts, though maximum sentences rarely are imposed.
The charges include conspiracy to defraud the federal government, making false statements to the FEMA and insurance fraud.
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