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Published: Wednesday, 2/24/2010

3 more Toledoans guilty of stealing funds intended for hurricane victims

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The last of more than two dozen Toledoans charged with stealing money intended for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were in federal court Tuesday after a four-day trial, where three of them were found guilty.

Three of five defendants who went to trial on charges that they fraudulently made claims for hurricane assistance were found guilty by a federal jury that deliberated more than five hours.

Roger McFarland, Frances Huntley, and Lois Lipkins were found guilty of conspiring to steal government money. Acquitted on similar charges were Sirena L. Campbell and Kenyatta D. King.

Charges against a sixth defendant, Jerome King, Jr., were dismissed prior to the start of trial in U.S. District Court in Toledo on Feb. 17.

The three convicted of the crime are among those who were charged last year with filing false claims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram said that of the 28 people initially charged with the crime, 24 have either been convicted by a jury or have pleaded guilty to the charge. Three of those initially charged — Ms. Campbell, Ms. King, and Shawnda Mitchell — were acquitted by federal juries, and the charges against Mr. King were dismissed.

Those found guilty yesterday are to be sentenced by Judge Jack Zouhary on June 8.

“This verdict shows that the jury considered the evidence against each defendant individually and we are pleased with the outcome,” he said.

After the hurricanes struck within weeks of one other in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided aid to the storm victims by paying for immediate emergency assistance, rental assistance, and lost or damaged property replacement assistance. The agency set up a hotline as an attempt to expedite the assistance process.

To make a claim for financial assistance, victims were asked to call the toll-free numbers and provide certain personal information, including their address in the affected areas.

Each was mailed a check as a result of the information given.

Prior to the four-day trial, five others named in the same indictment had pleaded guilty to the charge, including Reginald McFarland, Tina Frieson, Henrietta Mack, Jamica D.G. Chenault, and Lori J. Bibbs.

Of those found guilty, most received community control sanctions and some were sentenced to prison based on their prior criminal histories. All were ordered to pay back the money they fraudulently obtained.

“We will vigorously pursue anyone who steals money from a fed agency, especially those who steal money that's supposed to go to genuine victims of natural disasters,” Mr. Uram said.



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