1 February – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jonathan I. Solomon, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced today that defendant, Gary S. Kraser pled guilty to fraudulently soliciting charitable donations supposedly intended for Hurricane Katrina relief. Kraser pled guilty to wire fraud, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. Sentencing has been scheduled for April 13, 2006 before the U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan.
According to Indictment, Kraser falsely claimed in conversations on the Internet, and ultimately via the website at www.AirKatrina.com, that he was piloting flights to Louisiana to provide medical supplies to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and to evacuate children and others in critical medical condition. Kraser further claimed that he had organized a group of Florida pilots to assist him in his supposed relief efforts.
In one fraudulent Internet communication posted on August 30, 2005, Kraser pretended to have returned from Louisiana, and wrote, “I am shaking as I write this, as I just arrived home, and just now allowed my body and mind to accept what I saw tonight . . . I am crying as I read this . . I saw people on their roofs, that had used axes more than likely to cut through the roof, waving at us, as they thought we were Air Rescue . . . I saw dogs wrapped in electrical lines still alive and sparks flying from their bodies being electrocuted, as well as some people dead already. If I had a helicopter, I would be there now rather than back in FL . . . I’m so sorry I couldn’t do more . . . I’m crying and hugging my dog next to me now . . . I will hear these screams for the rest of my life. . .”
In another fraudulent communication posted on August 31, 2005, Kraser wrote, “I’m flying full loads out, and offering the empty plane on the outbound for Air Ambulance. If we didn’t have the plane, I don’t think the little baby would have survived . . . She is undergoing transplant surgery at this moment I am writing . . . 7 mos old, and smiling the whole way, as if she knew . . .” In yet another fraudulent posting, Kraser claimed that he “tipped wings” with AirForce One while over Louisiana.
According to the Indictment, Kraser claimed that he personally paid for these fictitious relief flights, and that he approved the creation of the website www.AirKatrina.com to solicit donations supposedly to purchase the fuel for his claimed humanitarian aid missions. According to the website, “every dollar, every nickel, [would] go directly into the tanks of these pilots planes on their mission of mercy.”
The website allowed for donations to be made directly into Kraser’s PayPal® account, a service that allows customers to send and receive money online for transactions conducted over the Internet. In addition, Kraser provided instructions for wiring contributions directly into his bank account. PayPal was among the first to cooperate with the investigation, and deserves our thanks. In just two days, Kraser received almost $40,000 in donations from forty-eight (48) different victims from around the world.
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition, Mr. Acosta encouraged anyone with information about Hurricane Katrina fraud to contact law enforcement. Several existing government websites and resources are available to obtain information about, and report instances of, Katrina-related fraud. The FBI website, www.fbi.gov, contains updated alerts about particular types of charity-related frauds. Members of the public can also report instances of fraud on the Website for the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, at www.ic3.gov. The Federal Trade Commission provides additional information at its website, www.ftc.gov, and a toll-free FTC hotline, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357, TTY/TDD: 202-326-2502), also allows consumers to report suspected fraud schemes, including Katrina-related fraud.