It's one thing to defraud FEMA in the wake of a hurricane. It's another to mess with Oprah.
That's the sad, heavy lesson learned by four people named in indictments unsealed this morning by the U.S. Attorney's office. They're charged with, as the feds put it, "wrongfully obtaining rental assistance from FEMA after having purchased new, fully-furnished homes that were financed by Oprah Winfrey's 'Oprah's Angel Network.'" (Hey, nice plug and product-placement for the Big O.)
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. 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, the feds say.
The defendants got FEMA money, or helped get it, after Oprah already built them a damn home in Houston. The nerve of some people.
The U.S. Attorney's Office release doesn't stint in its praise of Winfrey:
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In light of the devastation caused by Katrina and Rita, celebrity television personality Oprah Winfrey, through her charitable organization "Oprah's Angel Network," partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build and furnish homes for approximately 65 families forced to relocate to Houston as a result of the storms. The bulk of these homes were built on Asheburton Springs Drive in Houston, which was subsequently re-named "Angel Lane" in honor of the funding and assistance provided by Oprah's Angel Network.
The aim of the Angel Lane Housing Development was to allow individuals who had been displaced by Katrina or Rita to purchase brand new homes under extremely favorable financing terms. Specifically, with the funding provided by Oprah's Angel Network, Habitat for Humanity would use its expertise to construct and furnish the new homes and would act as an interest-free lender to the purchasers of the homes.
The City of Houston would also provide the purchasers with generous down payments from its Housing and Community Development Department program. All of these charitable efforts combined would enable the selected victims of Katrina and Rita to purchase new homes in Houston at deeply discounted prices.
Despite Oprah's largesse, some of the accused allegedly continued to take $14,000 in FEMA rental-assistance after getting an Angel Lane house. (They had also received $23,000 legitimately.)
"The response to natural disasters brings out the best and worst in people," U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson said in the release. "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."
Hey, he forgot to mention Oprah!! And her generosity!!!