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Mississippi mayor, wife arrested on Katrina fraud charges

  • Story Highlights
  • Gulfport, Mississippi, mayor "will continue working to rebuild our city"
  • Mayor Gregory Brent Warr, says he pleaded not guilty
  • Indictment: Couple received $222,798 "for which the defendants are liable"
  • Couple, released on bond and ordered to court April 6, face up to 210 years
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(CNN) -- The mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi, and his wife were arrested Wednesday on charges they defrauded the federal government and an insurance company of more than $220,000 in claims related to Hurricane Katrina, authorities said.

Gulfport Mayor Gregory Brent Warr, shown in 2005, says the charges "will not change my commitment" to the city.

Gulfport Mayor Gregory Brent Warr, shown in 2005, says the charges "will not change my commitment" to the city.

Gregory Brent Warr and Laura Jean Warr were named in a 16-count federal indictment handed up last week by a grand jury, the Department of Justice said in a news release. They are accused of conspiracy, Federal Emergency Management Agency fraud, Department of Housing and Urban Development home grant fraud and insurance fraud, all arising from claims after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005.

If convicted on each count, the couple would face up to 210 years in prison and up to $4 million in fines, prosecutors said.

"Understand that what has been alleged toward my wife and me has no connection to me as mayor," Brent Warr said in a statement issued Wednesday. "This has not and will not change my commitment to the progress and recovery of our city."

He said he pleaded not guilty, but said he will not speak further about the case.

"I am the mayor of Gulfport, and I will continue working to rebuild our city," Warr said. "We have hundreds of dedicated employees, department heads and directors, and everything we have achieved thus far is a result of their hard work and love for this city.

"For Laura and me, personally, this is a difficult time, but I will continue the work as mayor."

According to the indictment, the Warrs in 2005 applied for FEMA assistance regarding a Gulfport home, telling officials that home was their primary residence when it was not. In 2006, the indictment says, the couple applied to the Mississippi Development Authority for a Homeowner's Assistance Grant funded by HUD, again claiming they lived at the address.

The indictment also alleges the Warrs made misrepresentations to Lexington Insurance Company regarding personal property in the insured home, payment of rent for alternative living after Katrina and the extent of damage to the home.

The Warrs received a total of $222,798 "as a result of the said offenses, for which the defendants are liable," the indictment says.

The couple was released on bond and ordered to appear for trial April 6, the Justice Department said.

In his statement, Warr said the inquiry "has been going on for more than a year now, and we hope and pray for a much faster resolution."

City spokesman Ryan LaFontaine issued a statement saying that while he was not in a position "to speculate what is happening in the mayor's personal life ... I can tell you that as for the city, we are continuing to carry out the people's business.

"The mayor has indicated that he has every intention of coming to work tomorrow, and every day after that, as the mayor of Gulfport," LaFontaine said. "In the nearly four years that he has been here, Mayor Warr has created a framework and an agenda for the recovery of Gulfport. And he has assembled a very talented team of directors and employees that understand the enormity of the recovery challenges that lie ahead.

"Under his continued leadership, I'm very confident that this city will continue to move along the path that he has set," LaFontaine said. "The people of Gulfport don't care about the mayor's personal issues. They only care about what he's doing to fix their issues."

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