SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Two Butte County women face federal fraud charges this week for allegedly lying about losing their homes in the 2018 Camp Fire in order to receive disaster relief.
The Department of Justice charged 66-year-old Cynthia Seely and 53-year-old Kristen Canapary, with making false statements in applications for FEMA benefits in connection with the fire, according to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California McGregor W. Scott.
Following the 2018 Camp and Carr Fires, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made disaster relief available to people who needed food, shelter and personal items. To qualify for the aid, an individual’s primary residence at the time of the fire had to have been destroyed or damaged by the fire, among other eligibility criteria.
According to court documents, Seeley claimed she rented a residence located in Magalia and received $11,604.79 in cash benefits from FEMA, while Canapary falsely claimed that she rented a home in Paradise and received $8,973.05 in cash benefits as well as temporary housing.
Feds charged Seeley and Canapary each with one count of fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefits.
“These indictments are the result of ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute a variety of disaster related frauds, including fraudulent claims for disaster assistance,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “In 2018, in the aftermath of the Carr and Camp Fires, we encouraged the public to report any suspected fraudulent activity and promised to aggressively pursue and prosecute fraud and abuse. As California continues to be affected by wildfires, we stand by that commitment, and want to remind those who would try to fraudulently profit from the situation, that the U.S. Attorney’s Office together with the federal law enforcement will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute disaster fraud.”
In December 2019, six other people were indicted for lying about their primary residence on a FEMA assistance application in connection with the Camp Fire. Two of them — Patrick Prigmore and Daniel Connelly — pleaded guilty back in July and continue waiting sentencing. The whereabouts of two others, Kristy Marie Tapp and Andrew Keffer, are unknown, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
If convicted, Seeley and Canapary, each face a maximum 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although any sentence would be determined at the discretion of the court after including statutory factors and federal sentencing guidelines,
The Camp Fire at the time was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in U.S. history, killing 85 people and destroying more than 18,000 structures. The towns of Concow and Paradise were virtually wiped out by the inferno.