(CN) – Though the government broke its plea deal, a former Louisiana mayor who hoarded $320,000 in federal emergency funds must serve four years in prison, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Roy Hebron was mayor of Ball, a town of 3,600 people in central Louisiana, in 2005 when Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast.
Along with town clerk Brenda Kimball, Hebron told the Federal Emergency Management Agency they needed $134,000 to fund hurricane recovery efforts.
After Hurricane Gustav swept through the region in 2008, Hebron and Kimball applied for $309,000 from FEMA.
When the FBI investigated the claim, it found that Hebron and Kimball had bilked FEMA for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with help from the chief of police, several police officers and other town officials.
A presentencing report found that “discrepancies could be found in practically every employee/contractor” claim. Hebron’s FEMA applications inflated the hours worked by town employees and included completely fabricated claims.
In his sentencing hearing, Hebron argued that his actions cost FEMA at most $105,556, but the Alexandria court adopted the presentence report’s figure of $320,000.
Because the loss was over $200,000, Hebron was sentenced to four years in prison.
Hebron argued on appeal that the government breached his plea agreement when it supported a loss finding of more than $200,000.
Though the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit agreed that the government breached the plea deal, it refused to alter the sentence.
“It is evident that the government breached the agreement,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote for a three-judge panel. “Hebron reasonably understood it to require the government not to oppose a loss calculation of less than $200,000 or at least not to argue for a higher one. The various justifications offered by the government do not change the conclusion that the error was clear and obvious.”
But the court also found that “there is no indication that the government’s specific arguments in favor of the higher loss calculation affected the sentence.”
“Hebron provides no evidence to the contrary,” Smith wrote. “In sum, the breach of the plea agreement likely did not affect the sentence, so Hebron’s substantial rights were not affected and, as a result, the court did not plainly err.”
Hebron had also argued that the presentence report included legitimate payments from FEMA to the town of Ball, along with the fraudulent ones.
Smith dismissed this possibility, agreeing with the government that “Hebron should not be able to hide behind his extensive fraud to escape a longer sentence.”
“Where the government has shown that the fraud was so extensive and pervasive that separating legitimate benefits from fraudulent ones is not reasonably practicable, the burden shifts to the defendant to make a showing that particular amounts are legitimate,” the decision states.