Birmingham, Ala- A federal judge yesterday(Jan 28, 2015) sentenced three south Alabama family members to prison for running a scheme to steal more than $3 million from the claims fund established by British Petroleum for victims of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Roger C. Stanton.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn sentenced MARCELLA TRUSS, 53, to 12 years and one month in prison. The judge also ordered Truss to pay $1.9 million in restitution and to forfeit that same amount as proceeds of illegal activity. Judge Blackburn sentenced Truss’ husband, MARTEE DAVIS, 42, to 13 years and three months in prison. The judge ordered Davis to be responsible for the same restitution and forfeiture as Truss. Judge Blackburn sentenced Truss’ brother, HOWARD LENARD CARROWAY, 42, to eight years in prison. Truss and Davis lived in Grand Bay, Ala., and Birmingham, and Carroway lived in Mobile during the course of the scheme.
The overall conspiracy involved the filing of more than 50 fraudulent claims, in the names of 37 people, over about 18 months with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, according to the government’s sentencing memoranda for the three defendants. The conspirators executed their scheme by wire, mail and in person in three states, spanning four jurisdictions, according to the government. The scheme involved the repetitive and coordinated use of e-mails, phones, and a variety of falsified documents, including tax and payroll records.
“Stealing money intended to help disaster victims recover is a serious and heartless crime, as today’s sentences reflect,” Vance said. “These defendants saw a disaster that blackened and fouled the Gulf of Mexico, spoiled much of its coastline and damaged or destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people, and they chose to exploit the tragedy for their own criminal profit. We place a high priority on investigating and prosecuting such fraud to ensure that funds available to help victims of natural and man-made disasters do not fall into the hands of criminals,” she said.
“Relief funds meant to assist individuals, businesses and communities are essential in order to restore normalcy after a disaster,” Stanton said. “This process is hampered by those few, like today’s defendants, who wish to defraud and siphon relief and disaster funds away from those who are most at need. The FBI, along with its law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who defraud the government for their own personal gain,” he said.
A federal jury in October found Truss, Davis and Carroway guilty of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud between August 2010 and December 2011 for filing false claims with BP Gulf Coast fund. Evidence at trial showed the oil spill fund paid almost $2 million on the fraudulent claims.
The jury also convicted the trio of aggravated identity theft in carrying out the scheme. The jury further found Truss guilty on 31 counts of wire fraud for submitting, or causing to be submitted, false claims to the GCCF, and on one count of mail fraud related to a check received as part of the scheme. It convicted Davis on three wire fraud counts.
The jury convicted Truss and Davis of laundering money stolen from the GCCF. It found Carroway guilty on five wire fraud counts and on two counts of obstructing justice for telling recruits in the scheme to lie to prosecutors.
BP owned the Macondo Oil Well where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in 2010. The company established the GCCF in June 2010 to administer and settle claims made against it by individuals or business for losses, damages or other costs resulting from the massive oil spill.
Truss, Davis and Carroway originally were charged along with two other people, Truss’ son, Robert Truss III, 26, of Houston, and Cedric Dion Ravizee, 37, of Birmingham. Robert Truss pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud and mail fraud, and Ravizee pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
In total, 20 people have been convicted in the Northern District of Alabama on charges related to the scheme to defraud the GCCF. Marcella and Robert Truss, Davis and Carroway recruited the 16 other defendants to provide personal information that was used to file false claims. Those recruited then received claim payments and provided a portion of the payments to the ringleaders. The 17 remaining defendants in the fraud are to be sentenced this week.
All of the fraudulent claims submitted to the GCCF falsely stated that the individual had worked for a company called Built by Request and had lost wages because of the Deepwater Horizon incident. Marcella Truss owned BBR and dissolved the company after the scheme played out. The FBI investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Henry Cornelius, Jacquelyn M. Hutzell and Xavier O. Carter are prosecuting the case. Media Contact: US Attorney’s Office, Birmingham, AL (205) 244-2001