3 Americans charged with defrauding funds meant for Sandy victims

NEW YORK (AFP) - Three Americans have been charged with defrauding more than US$68,000 (S$84,200) in Hurricane Sandy relief funds as the United States on Tuesday marked the anniversary of the killer cyclone.

Two women in their 30s from New York and a man, 52, from North Carolina are accused in the first publicised fraud cases linked to the massive relief effort. The trio are accused of defrauding and stealing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has awarded US$1.4 billion (S$1.73 billion) to victims of Sandy.

Joseph McClam has been charged with claiming and receiving more than US$32,000 in compensation for a New York property he claimed was his primary residence when Sandy struck. But according to his arrest warrant, the home in Sheepshead Bay had been vacant since a fire in 2010, and that McClam lived in North Carolina. He is accused of spending, at most, one weekend a month in the basement of the house when he visited New York.

The two women are due in a US district court in Suffolk County, New York on Tuesday over allegations that they forged documents to receive more than US$18,000 each. Jena Sowinski, 37, allegedly claimed that the apartment she rented had been made uninhabitable by the storm, when in fact it had suffered only minor damage. Tselane Gibbs, 31, also forged documents claiming rent she purportedly paid after relocating to an apartment in Brooklyn where she never lived.

Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states and paralysed parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. More than 200 people were killed. At least 650,000 houses were affected and power cuts lasted for months.