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Warr Case:
Government Issues Statement on Witnesses Intended for Homeowner Grant Trial of Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and Wife

By: Keith Burton - GCN 4/17/09

Federal prosecutors in the Homeowner Grant fraud case of Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and his wife Laura have filed papers indicating the government's intent for several witnesses in the case.

In a "Notice of Intent to Use Evidence" prosecutors in the case say they will be placing on the stand a series of individuals that will offer evidence that the Warr's misled officials with the Mississippi Development Authority, FEMA and the Warr's insurance company regarding the Warr's occupancy of their beachrfront home in Gulfport, a requirement to receive a MDA Katrina Homeowner Grant.

(GCN file photo right: Laura and Brent Warr leaving courthouse Jan. 23, 2009)

According to the document, filed in Federal Court in Gulfport April 14:

1. The Government expects to call a witness from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who will testify as to the procedures for registering or applying for disaster emergency individual assistance and the eligibility requirements for such individual assistance along with the application of FEMA rules, regulations and procedures as used daily in the work of FEMA disaster individual assistance employees. It is expected that this witness will testify that it is a requirement that the damaged dwelling be the primary residence and that the applicants live in the dwelling at the time of the disaster and that, if the applicants were not residing in the damage dwelling, they are not eligible for FEMA disaster assistance. Further, the witness is expected to testify that disaster assistance funds are federal funds.

2. The Government expects to call a witness or witnesses from the Mississippi Development Authority and/or Reznick Group who will testify to the establishment of the Mississippi Homeowner Grant program; that the funds for the grant program are federal funds; the procedures for applying for the homeowner grant and the eligibility requirements for such grant, the appeals procedure for the grant and the application of MDA rules, regulations and procedures as used daily in the work of MDA and Reznick employees. It is expected that these witnesses will testify that to qualify for Phase I of the Homeowner Grant Program (1) applicants had to own and occupy the home as of August 29, 2005, (2) the home must be located in Harrison, Hancock, Jackson or Pearl River Counties, (3) the home must have been the primary residence on August 29, 2005, (4) the applicant’s must maintain homeowner’s insurance on the property, and (5) the home must have been outside the pre-Katrina designated flood zone on August 29, 2005, yet suffered flood damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. If the homeowners were not in fact living/occupying the home, they were not eligible for the grant program and would be denied.

3. The Government expects to call witnesses representing Lexington Insurance Company regarding both underwriting procedures and policies and claims procedures and policies. It is expected that the underwriting witness will explain the difference between primary and secondary home coverage and the policies and changes to those policies performed by Lexington for the property located at 1814 Beach Drive, Gulfport, Mississippi. It is expected that the witnesses testifying regarding the claim for 1814 Beach Drive, Gulfport, Mississippi will explain how the claim was made and processed, what was covered and what if anything should not have been covered under the policy.

4. The Government expects to call witnesses who inspected the property located at 1814 Beach Drive, Gulfport, Mississippi, for FEMA and/or Lexington Insurance. It is expected that the witnesses will testify as to the scope and findings of their inspections and as to any representations made by defendants. Reports of these inspections in the possession of the Government have been provided to defendants. The testimony of the witnesses should not be limited to matters contained in this notice but should include all matters to which they have personal knowledge or knowledge by virtue of their employment duties.

The document is part of a recent series of actions in the case. A motion was filed by defense attorneys asking that the court order prosecutors to release information and names of co-conspirators in the case was decided by U.S. District Judge Walter Gex, in a ruling also released April 14. This ruling stems from a favorable ruling for the defense by Magistrate Judge John Roper that was appealed by federal prosecutors to Gex.

Warr's defense council wanted prosecutors to turn over 30 days before trial the names of witnesses listed in the indictment as co-conspirators and to supply more information about a false statement the Warrs are accused of making to FEMA. Defense council also wanted more details from prosecutors regarding a false statement that the Warrs provided to FEMA that is alleged in the federal indictment against the Warrs.

Documents show that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had argued that the names of co-conspirators should be turned over only five days before trial when witness lists are generally due. Prosecutors also argued that the indictment supplied enough information about the false statement.

Judge Gex ruled only partly in favor of the defense. Gex told government prosecutors that they must turn over the witness list on the co-conspirators 30 days before the trial, but only of those co-conspirators that the government intended to call as witnesses and that the list would be sealed. Gex also agreed with the defense that the government must provide the additional information regarding the false statement.

The government alleges that the Warrs did not live in their home at the time of hurricane Katrina, a requirement of the MDA Homeowner Grant program and that they filed false insurance claims with their insurer. The case is scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 8 in Gulfport.

More Information:

Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and Wife Indicted by Federal Authorities for Katrina Fraud, Plead Not Guilty - GCN 1/28/09

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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