U.S. Attorney Establishes Middle District of Florida Disaster Fraud Task Force and Urges Floridians to Be Vigilant in Reporting Suspected Fraud
Tampa, Florida – Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow has established a Disaster Fraud Task Force within the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida (MDFL). The MDFL encompasses 35 of Florida’s 67 counties, has offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa, and Ft. Myers, and serves over 11.5 million citizens in Florida. Acting U.S. Attorney Muldrow also urges all Florida residents and businesses to immediately report suspected fraudulent activity relating to recovery and cleanup operations, fake charities claiming to be providing relief for victims, and individuals submitting false claims for disaster relief.
In anticipation of fraudulent activity in connection with federal disaster relief following Hurricane Irma, the newly created MDFL Task Force will be headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg, one of the MDFL’s Criminal Chiefs who has extensive experience investigating and prosecuting these types of fraud schemes. The Task Force will be staffed by experienced prosecutors throughout the MDFL and will work closely with our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to protect the benefits destined for citizens who are victims of this disaster.
The Task Force will also work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), which was established to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the NCDF, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.
“We will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who seeks to defraud or exploit the federal assistance programs established to help individuals, families, or businesses that have lost so much as a result of Hurricane Irma,” said Acting U.S Attorney Muldrow. “Our Office will continue to protect the rights of our honest citizens affected by this disaster and ensure that they receive the necessary public and charitable assistance they deserve. If you suspect any fraud, we urge you to call the NCDF Hotline. Our efforts to combat fraud associated with Hurricane Irma will supplement the outstanding and ongoing efforts by the State of Florida and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.”
Florida residents should continue to report fraud, price gouging, and other fraudulent schemes to the agencies and hotlines established by the State of Florida. The public is reminded to be extremely cautious before providing personal identifying information or account data to anyone, especially those who may contact you. Residents should also remember to perform due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations or individuals offering to provide assistance to those affected by the hurricane.
Members of the public who suspect fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, or believe they have been the victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also fax information to the Center at (225) 334-4707, or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl.