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Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and Wife Laura Indicted for Katrina Fraud
Case Stems from Homeowner Grant Case

by Keith Burton - GCN 1/28/09 
Updated with additional information 2/8/09
(Photos: Deborah Heylman GCN)

Mayor Brent Warr and his wife Laura entered pleas of not guilty in a 16-count indictment for Katrina fraud Wednesday morning in federal court in Gulfport. Both Warrs face up to 210 years in prison and a potential fine up to $4 million if convicted on each count of the indictment.

Wednesday's arraignment ended months of speculation by Gulfport and Coast residents as to the seriousness of the investigations underway in the city.

A somber Brent Warr entered the courtroom with his wife Laura along with attorney Joe Sam Owen. Their appearance before Federal Judge John Roper lasted about 30 minutes. Both Warr's pled "not guilty."

The prominent Gulfport couple was charged by a federal grand jury for hurricane Katrina related fraud. The grand jury indictment alleges that the Warrs made a false statement to the Mississippi Development Authority for a HUD funded home grant and committed mail fraud in obtaining funds from Lexington Insurance Company.

Following the court appearance, the Warrs made a short statement outside the courthouse to reporters.

"Laura and I have entered our pleas. It speaks for itself," he said. "We are not going to make public statements."

A tentative trial date of April 6 has been set by Judge Roper who said the case will be tried by long-time  U.S. District Judge Walter J. Gex.

The Warrs were released on unsecured bonds of $25,000 each. During the court proceeding both Wars kept their composure but the pressure of what was happening to them was etched on their faces. Judge Roper told the Warrs that they are under orders not to intimidate any witnesses, or informants in the case by any means or face additional charges. (GCN photo left: Warr home Jan 2009)

Roper also recommended that both Warrs would be be better served to have individual attorneys. To that, Warr attorney Joe Sam Owen of Gulfport confirmed that would be the case. At this juncture, who will be that attorney has not been announced. In addition, Judge Roper restricted the travel of the Warrs to the southern district of Mississippi, but did allow for Brent Warr to travel for an event scheduled in mid February. The specifics of that travel was not identified in court.

The Warrs left the proceedings via the front door of the Dan M. Russell Jr. courthouse in downtown Gulfport accompanied by his parents. There was not a crowd of supporters and well-wishers present.

In September 2005, the Department of Justice created the national Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, designed to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft, procurement fraud and insurance fraud. The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force - chaired by Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Rita M. Glavin, includes members from the DHS Office of Inspector General, FBI, the HUD Office of Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the Postal Inspector's Office and the Executive Office of United States Attorneys, among others. (GCN photo right: Warr home in 2006)

Pursuant to the Justice Department initiative, a local Katrina Fraud Task Force, consisting of more than 20 federal and state law enforcement agencies, was formed in the Southern District of Mississippi to pursue and prosecute individuals who engage in fraud associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The DHS Office of Inspector General and the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor Katrina Fraud and Detection Unit, assisted by agents from the HUD OIG, investigated the activities of the Warrs.

GulfCoastNews.com first broke the story on Warr's receipt of a MDA Homeowner Grant Jan. 4, 2008. Readers can read more of GCN's reports in the archive link below.

More Information:

Warr Attorneys Expected to Ask for a Delay in Trial Date - GCN 2/20/09

Pretrial Hearing in Warr Case to be Held Thursday - GCN 2/18/09  Ed: Motion hearing delayed until 2/20/09

Update: 2/2/09 - A federal sealed indictment against the Warrs was issued November 6, 2008. That indictment was sealed to provide investigations additional time on the investigation. The initial indictment had 11 counts. The indictment that was opened in court January 28, 2009 has 16 counts. The additional counts deal with a matter of insurance fraud alleged in the most recent indictment, charges that were absent in the first indictment.

Update: 2/9/09 - Laura Warr has selected a separate attorney to represent her in the Katrina fraud case. It is  attorney Frank Trapp of Jackson.  During the initial appearance of Laura and her husband Brent Warr, the couple were represented by Gulfport Attorney Joe Sam Owen. At that time, Owen told the judge that Laura Warr would be later represented by another attorney to avoid any conflict of interest.

Federal Warr Indictment  Jan. 28, 2009- .pdf file

Warr to Continue Work as Mayor - GCN

Warr Statement on Indictment - GCN

GCN Warr Archives

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