Two Georgia men pleaded guilty in federal district court last week to stealing federal emergency aid funds that were intended for Hurricane Katrina victims, officials said.

Henry P. Edwards, 41, of Atlanta, and Dwight M. Thomas, 21, of Doraville, each pleaded guilty to counts of mail fraud, and Edwards also pleaded guilty to filing false claims and theft of FEMA funds, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Georgia.

“Let these cases be yet another example of our commitment to prosecute those criminals who took advantage of a terrible tragedy to enrich themselves,” U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said in a statement. “Our investigation into those who fraudulently obtained Hurricane Katrina funds is continuing.”

According to Nahmias and information presented in court, on Sept. 3, 2005, Edwards filed a false claim for emergency assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, and claimed that he was a New Orleans resident who was a victim of Hurricane Katrina.

Edwards reportedly received, cashed and spent the $2,000 check FEMA sent to him for emergency assistance, according to a statement from Nahmias’ office. FEMA later discovered that Edwards was residing in Atlanta when the hurricane hit, and further investigation revealed that the New Orleans address he provided was not a residential address, but a U.S. Post Office building, according to Nahmias.

On Sept. 12, 2005, Thomas reportedly filed a false claim with FEMA for emergency assistance and rental assistance claiming that he was residing at 2700 Whitney Ave, in Harvey, La., when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, according to Nahmias’ office. Thomas received and spent both the $2,000 emergency assistance check, and the $2,358 rental assistance check, even though he was not a victim of Hurricane Katrina, officials said.

Further investigation revealed that Thomas was working and living in the Atlanta area at least since April of 2005, and was residing with his girlfriend and her family in Doraville, Ga., at the time Hurricane Katrina made landfall, according to the attorney’s office.

Edwards was named in a three-count indictment returned on Dec. 6, 2005, that charged him with crimes related to fraudulently obtaining emergency assistance from FEMA. Edwards pleaded guilty last week to all three counts of the indictment, which charged him with mail fraud, filing false claims, and theft of FEMA funds, respectively.

Thomas was named in a five-count indictment issued on the same date, which charged him with mail fraud, filing a false claim, and theft of FEMA funds. Thomas pleaded guilty last week to Count One of the indictment, which charged him with using the mail to execute his scheme to defraud FEMA.

Each man faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Sentencing for Edwards is scheduled for May 22, and sentencing for Thomas is scheduled for May 25, according to Nahmias’ office.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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