Town of Ball to repay FEMA over $163K for fraudulent claims from Hurricanes Rita, Gustav

Town of Ball to repay FEMA over $163K for fraudulent claims from Hurricanes Rita, Gustav
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 7:42 PM CDT
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BALL, La. (KALB) - The Town of Ball has finally settled a nearly 20-year dispute with FEMA that left the town suspended and unable to receive grants following natural disasters.

At Tuesday’s town council meeting, the council approved repaying $163,102.60 of the $268,668.70 it owed to FEMA after fraudulent claims were filed by the town during Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

“This has been a long time coming for the Town of Ball,” said an emotional Mayor Gail Wilking during the council meeting. “It ends today.”

The fraudulent claims were investigated by the FBI and led to the conviction of then Ball Mayor Roy Hebron for conspiracy to commit fraud of FEMA. The fraud and debt prevented the town from receiving any help from FEMA following any natural disasters.

“We tried and tried to get into the FEMA site and apply,” said Mayor Wilking. “Each time we got to a certain point, they’d say it was denied. I had no way of getting food and water for my town.”

FEMA began attempting to close out these grants in 2011 for $268,668.70, and the Town of Ball refused to certify the accuracy of the money involved because of the widespread fraud involving the two grants.

Until this week, the Town of Ball was still on the hook for over $163,000 after already paying $105,556.10 in restitution due to a ruling from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012. The money was jointly paid in full by the defendants leaving a balance of $163,102.60.

However, this remaining balance will not come out of the town’s pocket because of Hurricane Laura in 2020. The town actually sustained damage in that hurricane, requiring assistance from FEMA, but due to the previous fraud, the agency decided to hold the funds until the debt was collected.

“Unfortunately, the Town of Ball is responsible for the actions of those who accepted bonus checks which they knew reflected fraudulent payments for falsified timesheets,” said Alderwoman Charlotte Williams-Smith in a prepared statement. “We, the taxpaying citizens, are being held responsible for the fraudulent crimes of a previous administration.”

Mayor Wilking has been in constant talks with FEMA and finally negotiated with the agency to use the Hurricane Laura funds toward the town’s remaining debt from fraud. FEMA agreed, and the issue has been settled.

“We are relieved that it is finally over and that it’s not hanging over our heads anymore,” said Mayor Wilking. “The cloud is gone.”

The credit the Town of Ball had with FEMA was $165,060.85. Since the credit amount with FEMA was slightly more than what they still owed, the town will actually receive $1,958.25 for Hurricane Laura.

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