Couple Pleads Guilty To Illegally Acquiring Disaster Relief Funds: DOJ

The case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture

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    A Homestead married couple pled guilty to fraud Tuesday after they were accused of filing false claims with a disaster relief fund and using the money for their interests in Costa Rica, the Department of Justice announced.

    Yaima Perez, 28, and her husband, Sergio Perez, 49, face 11 counts including filing false claims, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud. The couple is scheduled to be sentenced August 8 and could face as many as 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud alone, authorities said.

    In 2007, following hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, Yamia Perez became a federal employee of FSA County Office Committee in Homestead. The COC supervised the Nursery Program, an initiative established to provide monetary assistance to nursery and fernery producers who lost money as a result of the storms.

    During that time, the couple filed false claims under the nursery program for a Plantas Ornamentales, a business Sergio Perez owned. The claims were supported with false documentation that stated the nursery sustained damage as a result of the two hurricanes, the department said.

    The couple acquired a total of $1.3 million from the United States Department of Agriculture Commodity Credit Union, which was deposited into Yamia Perez’s bank accounts, authorities said. Much of the money was wired to Costa Rica to purchase land and to support a company formed by Sergio Perez.

    The case was investigated by USDA Office of Inspector General-Investigations Division.