NEW ORLEANS – A pair of New Orleans residents have pleaded guilty to wire fraud for their part in a scam to defraud the Deepwater Horizon oil spill claims fund and Medicare of more than $30 million.
On April 28, New Orleans residents Clara Aitch, 39, and Wendy Ervin, 42, each admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud after they filed false applications with the Deepwater Horizon claim facility to capture oil spill damage awards to which they were not entitled. In a plea agreement with the Department of Justice, Aitch and Ervin, both who are employees of Abide Home Services, accepted responsibility for falsely reporting they were employees of a reception hall owned by businesswoman Lisa Crinel, who is also the owner of Abide Home Services. In all Aitch and Ervin received a combined $38,800 in damage awards for filing false Deepwater Horizon claims.
The two were originally indicted on March 3 along with 18 others, including Crinel. They are accused of a wide range of fraudulent activities, including defrauding the Medicare system and Deepwater Horizon claims facility, constituting an alleged scheme to receive a combined $30,052,295 in fraudulently obtained funds.
For their role in the Deepwater Horizon scheme alone, Aitch and Ervin could spend five years behind bars and face a $250,000 fine apiece.
The convictions of Aitch and Ervin are part of an apparent effort by special investigator Louis Freeh, who was brought in by the court to root out fraud in the Deepwater Horizon claim program, to step up policing efforts by ferreting out cases of fraud and pursuing criminal charges against wrongdoers.
BP has maintained the Deepwater Horizon claims center is beset by fraud due to lax reporting standards for claimants resulting in several instances of fraud being uncovered only after claims have been paid out.
According to a “Fraud Tally” on the BP-operated website, The State of the Gulf, 254 cases of fraud spanning 11 states and worth a combined $20,616,531 have currently been reported in the Deepwater Horizon claims facility resulting in 180 convictions.