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Woman charged with disaster fraud

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By WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Friday, February 8, 2019

A Rocky Mount woman is accused of committing disaster fraud by cheating the federal government in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, records show.

Sheila Ruffin, 50, is charged in a 15-count indictment a grand jury handed down on Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

The indictment alleges Ruffin made false statements and submitted fraudulent documents in seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and in the process ended up being awarded thousands of dollars to which she wasn't entitled.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said if Ruffin is convicted of the charges, she would face a maximum of 30 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and a term of supervised release of not more than three years and also would have to make restitution.

The indictment states FEMA's responsibilities included, among other things, providing assistance to people in places the president declares a disaster.

The indictment states FEMA had a program providing for financial assistance and other services to eligible people for losses caused by a disaster not covered by insurance or another source.

According to the indictment, a component of the program provided funds to eligible applicants who lacked the means to meet serious needs.

Those needs included housing-related expenses, such as home repair and replacement costs, as well as rental assistance for temporary housing while an applicant was displaced from his or her primary residence.

Additionally, people awarded rental assistance by the program could reapply for continued temporary rental assistance, based on need.

Also, FEMA provided critical needs assistance through the program.

This consisted of federal assistance to people and households who, as a result of a major disaster, had immediate or critical needs due to being displaced from their primary residence.

Critical needs included fuel for transportation, food, personal hygiene items, prescriptions and water.

A couple of days after Matthew hit North Carolina, President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration covering the state’s eastern counties.

The indictment states the day after the declaration, Ruffin applied for FEMA disaster assistance by phone.

According to the indictment, Ruffin at the time lived at an apartment in the 500 block of Eastern Avenue and claimed her residence was damaged by Matthew.

The indictment states she was awarded $1,684 in initial rental assistance, $500 in critical needs assistance and $264 for personal property.

According to the indictment, from the end of January 2017 to late January 2018, Ruffin was awarded $11,250 in continued rental assistance.

The indictment states Ruffin faxed FEMA a copy of a North Carolina vehicle registration card altered to falsely indicate her vehicle registration was current.

The indictment also states she faxed FEMA handwritten letters and rental receipts falsely indicating she was living at a residence in the 500 block of North Daughtry Street due to hurricane-related repairs at her permanent residence.

The indictment is only the federal government’s side of the case.

Ruffin is going to have her chance to respond as the case is processed through the court system.

Don Connelly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, on Thursday said Ruffin isn’t in the custody of federal marshals or being held in a jail at this time.

Connelly said when Ruffin makes her initial appearance in court, she'll either retain an attorney or if she can't afford legal counsel, the court will appoint an attorney to represent her.

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