From the sound of things yesterday at the Federal Courthouse in Gulfport, Team Warr is churning while the good ol Team USA was burning. Based on what we know to this point my general feeling remains the FEMA charges will prove problematic for the Warrs rather than the others. One thing is for certain, this is NOT “a run-of-the-mill Katrina fraud case” despite Ms Williams protestations to the contrary. From the sound of things she evidently had started her day with a big bowl of Wheaties. Anita Lee filed the Sun Herald story:
Prosecutors must reveal the types of false statements they have accused Mayor Brent Warr and his wife, Laura, of making to secure FEMA relief after Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Roper ruled during a hearing Tuesday.
Roper decided the Warrs are entitled to know the “categories” of information they allegedly falsified for their beachfront house, such as repairs, living expenses or personal property destruction. Roper ordered the information turned over within 10 days.
Roper also said prosecutors must give the Warrs the names of “co-conspirators” and “aiders and abetters” mentioned throughout a 16-count indictment that charges them with Katrina and insurance fraud. The names are due 30 days before trial.
Laura Warr’s attorney, Frank Trapp of Jackson, requested the details from prosecutors. He said the information was essential to prepare Laura Warrs’ defense. Brent Warr’s attorney, Joe Sam Owen of Gulfport, joined the request.
“We’re left with a general allegation that a false statement was made,” Trapp told Roper, “but we don’t know the substance and we don’t know how to prepare for that.”
Trapp also pushed for the names of co-conspirators, saying inspectors, forensic engineers, contractors, suppliers, lawyers and others were involved with the Warr house in Katrina’s aftermath. He said he feared how potential defense witnesses might react if they found out shortly before trial they were considered co-conspirators.
“That would intimidate these witnesses,” Trapp said, “and they wouldn’t be able to cooperate.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams, lead prosecutor on the case, said the Warrs are receiving information that must be turned over before trial. She said any co-conspirators would be included on the government’s witness list due five days before the Sept. 8 trial.
“There is not anything more that we can give them or should give them,” Williams said. “They are trying to discover the government’s theory of the case.”
Trapp reiterated the defense needs the information to avoid surprise and witness intimidation, and to understand the scope of the charges.
Williams said the government’s investigation is “continuing.” She also said the Warrs’ attorneys could ask any potential witnesses whether they have talked to the government.
“This isn’t the Enron trial,” said Williams, who has prosecuted numerous Katrina fraud suspects. “This is not a bin Laden terrorism trial. This is a run-of-the-mill Katrina fraud case.”
Roper ruled first that the categories of alleged false statements to FEMA should be supplied.
“Can you provide that?” Roper asked Williams.
“We’ll think about it, your honor,” she said.
“You won’t think about it if I order it,” Roper said. “You’ll do it . . . I guess that wasn’t a question.”