Evan Palmer, 32, of Chico, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez to two years and three months in prison and ordered to pay $26,490 in restitution for defrauding FEMA by filing a false claim for benefits offered to certain survivors of the November 2018 Camp Fire, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, in order to obtain Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster benefits, Palmer falsely claimed a trailer located in Paradise, California was his primary residence at the time of the Camp Fire. In both his application for disaster benefits and his subsequent conversation with a FEMA inspector, Palmer claimed he and his family were living in the trailer at the time of the Camp Fire and that it was their primary residence when in fact Palmer and his family resided in a home in Chico. As a result of Palmer’s false statement, he received $26,490 in FEMA disaster benefits, which were intended to be used to repair or replace Palmer’s primary residence and to assist with two months of temporary rental housing. Palmer used this money for other purposes, including the purchase a vehicle.
Following the 2018 Camp Fire, FEMA disaster assistance funds were available to qualified individuals who had emergency needs for housing, food, and other necessities due to losses incurred by the fire. To qualify for assistance based on home ownership, an applicant must have resided in the damaged home as their primary residence at the time of the fire.
Palmer is one of eight individuals indicted in the Eastern District of California for making a false statement about their primary residence in an application for FEMA assistance in connection with the Camp Fire.
“In 2018, in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, we encouraged the public to report any suspected fraudulent activity and promised to aggressively pursue and prosecute fraud and abuse,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Talbert. “Today’s announcement is one example of our efforts to prosecute fraud to receive FEMA disaster benefits that should have gone to real victims of the devastating Camp Fire. We will continue to hold people accountable for fraudulent claims after a disaster to ensure that federal benefits go to those who truly need them.”
“Disasters bring out the best and worst in people, testing the strength of entire communities while providing temptation for criminals. Fraud schemes divert critical resources from disaster victims who are in desperate need and take advantage of communities that have already suffered significant losses,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “The FBI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure those who commit disaster fraud face justice for taking advantage of aid provided to the residents and businesses devastated by disasters such as the Camp Fire.”
Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari said, “This investigation and today’s sentencing speaks to the strength of our law enforcement partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ensure fraudsters are held accountable and taxpayer funds are used for their intended purpose.”
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shelley Weger and Roger Yang are prosecuting the case.
Members of the public who suspect fraud involving disaster relief efforts, including Camp Fire or COVID-19 relief efforts, or who believe they have been a 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. Alternatively, information can be submitted via the Center’s online Complaint Form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.