Five Indicted for Conspiracy to Defraud Gulf Oil Spill Fund
BIRMINGHAM—A federal grand jury today indicted five people in connection with a family-run scheme to defraud the claims fund established by British Petroleum for victims of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr.
MARCELLA TRUSS, 53, and her husband, MARTEE DAVIS, 41, both of Grand Bay, Alabama; ROBERT TRUSS III, 26 (Marcella Truss’ son), of Houston; HOWARD LENARD CARROWAY, 42, (Marcella Truss’ brother), of Mobile; and CEDRIC DION RAVIZEE, 37, of Birmingham; all are charged with conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud in order to make false claims of more than $2.4 million from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Davis recruited Ravizee into the scheme, according to the indictment. BP, which owned the Macondo Oil Well where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, established the GCCF in June 2010 to administer and settle claims made against the company by individuals or business for losses, damages or other costs resulting from the massive oil spill.
“This indictment, coming the same week as a series of deadly and destructive tornadoes in Alabama, should be a strong warning to anyone who considers taking advantage of a disaster to fraudulently enrich themselves that we watch closely for this kind of crime,” Vance said. “We place a high priority on the prompt investigation and prosecution of fraud related to natural and man-made disasters to ensure that funds available to help victims of those tragedies do not fall into the hands of criminals.”
“Disasters bring out the best in people, who volunteer to help with clean-up or make charitable donations. Sadly, disasters can also bring out the worst in people, like scam artists,” Schwein said. “I encourage anyone with information about possible disaster fraud to contact the Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, or the Disaster Fraud e-mail at email@example.com. You can also report criminal activity to us at 1-800-CALL-FBI.”
The five people charged with the conspiracy to defraud the oil spill fund also face various other charges in the 60-count indictment, including two counts of obstruction of justice against Carroway. The indictment charges that Carroway tried to persuade two people to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide false information, intending to hinder communication with prosecutors about the possible commission of a felony offense.
In the Northern District of Alabama, 15 other people have been charged and pleaded guilty since April 2013 to aiding and abetting the scheme to defraud the GCCF outlined in today’s indictment. Those 15 people were recruited by others to provide personal information that was used to file false claims. They then received claim payments and provided a portion of the payments to those who recruited them, according to the overt acts outlined in today’s indictment and court records in the other cases.
Today’s indictment charges Marcella and Robert Truss, Davis, Carroway, and Ravizee as the recruiters. Many of the multiple wire and mail fraud counts against those five defendants are based on their conduct with the 15 people who have pleaded guilty to charges of mail or wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud or to engaging in prohibited monetary transactions.
Marcella Truss faces 31 wire fraud and one mail fraud count, two aggravated identity theft counts, and one money-laundering count. Davis faces three wire fraud counts, two aggravated identity theft counts, and two money-laundering counts. Robert Truss faces three wire fraud counts, two aggravated identity theft counts, and two money-laundering counts. Carroway faces five wire fraud counts, two aggravated identity theft counts, and the two obstruction counts. Ravizee faces two wire fraud counts.
According to the indictment, the GCCF paid about $1.4 million on the scheme’s fraudulent claims, all made between August 27, 2010 and December 5, 2011. All the claims falsely stated that the individual had worked for a company called Built by Request and had lost wages because of the Deepwater Horizon incident.
Thirty-one of the BBR claims were filed by computer from an Internet Protocol address in Center Point, according to the indictment. BBR was a company registered with the state of Alabama by Marcella Truss. She and Davis lived in Center Point during the period relevant to this indictment.
The indictment charges that all five defendants recruited individuals to provide personal identification information and pose as claimants with the GCCF. Marcella Truss used the claimants’ identification information and filed the fraudulent claims, and Robert Truss and Ravizee helped claimants open bank accounts for receiving claim funds, according to the charges.
All five defendants accompanied claimants to banks to obtain proceeds from the claim funds, and all five received portions of the false claims that were paid, according to the indictment.
The maximum penalty for each of the following counts charged is: conspiracy, five years in prison and $250,000 fine; wire fraud, 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; mail fraud, 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; aggravated identity theft, two years in prison added to any sentence imposed for the underlying felony; and obstruction of justice, 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The money laundering charge against Davis carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the money involved in the crime, whichever is greater.
The money laundering charge against Marcella and Robert Truss carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.
The FBI investigated this case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry Cornelius is prosecuting.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges. Defendants are presumed innocent and it is the government’s responsibility to prove guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt at trial.