A grand jury in Birmingham indicted a local woman for making a fraudulent claim for disaster benefits following the tornadoes that hit Northern Alabama on April 27, 2011.
The indictment alleged that Charlotte H. Browning made fraudulent representations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in an application for disaster benefits concerning her home on the day the tornadoes struck.
The indictment alleges that Browning falsely stated that she lived at 1st Avenue South in Birmingham, which was damaged by the storm. She was also charged with making false representations to FEMA by submitting a false lease to the agency when applying for disaster relief benefits.
Browning was also charged with mail fraud in connection to a $11,647 U.S. Treasury check that was mailed to her based on a false FEMA benefits application that she filed using someone else’s name, without the other person’s permission. According to the indictment neither Browning nor the person whose name she filed lived at the address in Birmingham.
A grand jury has the power to press criminal charges against a person and refer them to the district attorney for prosecution. In many cases the charges come after a thorough investigation by the grand jury. Cases of government fraud such as this can be brought by private individuals in what are called qui tam claims. In these claims the private individual sues the alleged fraud maker in order to recover an award based on the amount of money the fraud maker wrongfully obtained.