Elverta Man Sentenced for Obstruction of Justice in Hurricane Katrina Scheme
|U.S. Attorney’s Office June 28, 2011|
SACRAMENTO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that United States District Judge John A. Mendez sentenced Gabriel Dean Watters, 34, of Elverta, today to three years and one month in prison for obstruction of justice and submitting a fraudulent receipt purporting to show the legal purchase of vehicles that he had transported from Louisiana to California in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Watters was convicted by a federal jury on November 8, 2010.
The original indictment in the case charged that following Hurricane Katrina, Watters traveled to the Gulf Coast area and stole up to 30 heavily flood damaged vehicles that he then hauled back to California and sold. Watters owned a business called Blackwell’s Towing.
After the original indictment, Watters provided prosecutors with a document that purported to be a receipt for the purchase of some of the stolen vehicles. When the receipt was determined to be fraudulent, Watters was charged by superseding indictment with obstruction of an official proceeding and making a false document. At trial, Watters called witnesses to attempt to prove that the fraudulent receipt was real, however, the owner of the business that allegedly created the receipt testified that it was a fake and that the business had never possessed the subject vehicles or sold them to Watters. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the vehicle theft portion of the case but agreed that Watters had obstructed justice by producing the false receipt.
This case was the product of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the California Highway Patrol. United States Attorneys R. Steven Lapham and Lee Bickley prosecuted the case.