GULFPORT -- A judge has fined an 86-year-old woman $3,000 and ordered a 56-year-old man to house arrest for making false statements on unrelated homeowner-assistance grants in Pass Christian after Hurricane Katrina.
Both were sentenced in federal court Thursday on plea agreements they accepted in April. Rita Rohli Lee, of Slidell, lost two homes in Katrina. One was her primary residence in Louisiana. The other was a summer home on Cedar Avenue in Pass Christian. She received a $150,000 grant in Louisiana for her Slidell home and one for $100,000 from the Mississippi Development Authority for the Pass Christian home, said Sheila Wilbanks of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Lee has repaid MDA.
"I don't believe this lady intentionally falsified anything," said her attorney, Tim Holleman.
"She is hearing-impaired, and her husband, who handled all their business matters, had died, and all her relatives lost their homes in the hurricane. She was just trying to handle things on her own under trying circumstances. Because of her advanced age, I don't think she could have held up through a trial."
A relative, in a letter to U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden, said Lee had lived in four different places while waiting on a FEMA trailer after losing both her homes.
Ozerden set her fine Thursday and ordered probation for two years. The judge sentenced Herbert Palode Jr., of Gulfport, for false statements that earned him nearly $50,000.
Palode had claimed his primary residence when Katrina struck was a mobile home on Church Street in Pass Christian. He sold the home in October 2004, 10 months before the hurricane. Had the case gone to trial, the government would have shown Palode also received money from FEMA by claiming his primary residence was on a different lot on Church Street, Wilbanks said.
Ozerden sentenced Palode to eight months of home confinement and three years of probation, and ordered restitution of $33,600 to MDA and $16,364 to FEMA. The judge agreed to dismiss two related charges.
Palode and Lee each faced up to five years in prison for the false statements and fines of up to $250,000.