Home Jacksonville Press Releases 2012 Three Northwest Florida Residents Indicted for Filing Fraudulent Oil Spill Claims

Three Northwest Florida Residents Indicted for Filing Fraudulent Oil Spill Claims

U.S. Attorney’s Office February 13, 2012
  • Northern District of Florida (850) 942-8430

PENSACOLA, FL—Three residents of Northwest Florida have been federally indicted for filing fraudulent claims to obtain compensation from the oil spill trust fund established for Gulf Coast oil spill victims. The three federal indictments returned by the grand jury charge Robert Thayer (38), of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida; Jennifer J. Lee (39), of Destin, Florida; and Gabriel Sawyer (26), of Pensacola, Florida. The indictments were announced today by Pamela C. Marsh, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. Each individual is charged with federal law violations for oil spill claims they made in 2010 following the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The indictment charging Robert Thayer alleges that in July 2010, Thayer submitted a fraudulent claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, claiming lost earnings as a result of the Gulf Coast oil spill. According to the indictment, in support of his fraudulent claim, Thayer submitted a fraudulent letter on Destin West Resort Management letterhead, claiming that his loss of work was a result of the oil spill, when in fact Thayer had been discharged from his employment with Destin West Resort as a pool cleaner for misconduct on the job. The indictment charges Thayer with wire fraud for his fraudulent oil spill claim. If convicted, Thayer faces up to twenty years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. Thayer is scheduled for a jury trial before Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers on April 2, 2012.

The indictment charging Jennifer J. Lee alleges that in October 2010, Lee submitted a fraudulent claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, claiming lost earnings as a result of the Gulf Coast oil spill. According to the indictment, in support of her fraudulent claim, Lee submitted a fraudulent letter purportedly from South Bay Ace Hardware & Lumber Company and forged her employer’s signature, claiming that Lee suffered a loss in earnings from the oil spill. The indictment further alleges that in February 2011, when FBI special agents interviewed Lee about her oil spill claim, she lied to the agents. The indictment charges Lee with wire fraud for her fraudulent oil spill claim and with making a false statement for her statements to federal agents in February 2011. For the wire fraud, Lee faces up to twenty years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine up to $250,000. For the false statement charge, Lee faces up to five years in prison, three years’ supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. Lee is also scheduled for a jury trial before Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers on April 2, 2012.

The indictment charging Gabrielle Sawyer alleges that in October 2010, Sawyer submitted a fraudulent claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, claiming lost earnings as a result of the Gulf Coast oil spill. According to the indictment, in support of her fraudulent claim, Sawyer submitted a forged letter from a former employer, claiming that her loss of work was a result of the oil spill, when in fact Sawyer had voluntarily quit her job. The indictment further alleges that in February 2011, Sawyer attempted to persuade her former employer to provide false or misleading testimony to the grand jury investigating her oil spill claim. The indictment charges Sawyer with mail fraud for her fraudulent oil spill claim, as well as with tampering with a witness for her conduct in February 2011, when she was being investigated by the grand jury. On each count, Sawyer faces up to twenty years in prison, three years of supervised release and up to a $250,000 fine. Sawyer is scheduled for a jury trial before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Lacey A. Collier on April 2, 2012.

United States Attorney Pamela Marsh stated, “As a result of the Deep Horizon oil spill, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility was established to receive and process claims for losses and damages incurred by individuals and businesses truly harmed by the oil spill. Individuals who file false claims intending to defraud the GCCF adversely impact the payment of monies to those individuals and businesses who have suffered economic harm due to the oil spill. This office, along with federal law enforcement agencies, will vigorously investigate and prosecute those individuals who submit false claims to the GCCF.”

An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and remain so unless, and until, the government proves their guilt beyond every reasonable doubt at trial.

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