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Six People Charged for False Benefit Claims After Camp Fire

A defendant got over $26,000 for a travel trailer that burned in the fire. He claimed to live in Paradise, but investigators later found he lived in Chico. The fire lasted 18 days, burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 13,972 homes.

by Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle / December 18, 2019
Smoke fills the sky as the Camp Fire continues to burn along the North Fork of the Feather River on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. TNS

(TNS) — Six people were indicted Thursday for falsely claiming benefits for losses in the Camp Fire, according to federal prosecutors.

One of the defendants, Deborah Laughlin, was in jail at the time of the November 2018 fire, which ravaged the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. Laughlin received a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer and nearly $10,000 in benefits by fraudulently claiming an apartment at 7209 Skyway in Paradise as her primary residence, prosecutors said.

Another defendant, Evan Palmer, received more than $26,000 for a travel trailer that burned in the fire. He claimed to live at 4440 Clark Road in Paradise but investigators later found he lived in Chico.

Widely described as the deadliest wildfire in California history, the Camp Fire raged for 18 days, gnawing through 153,336 acres and destroying 13,972 homes.

President Trump declared it a major disaster, which enabled victims to apply for disaster assistance from FEMA. The agency provides trailers or temporary manufactured homes, as well as rental assistance for eligible people who lose their housing in a catastrophe. In some cases, FEMA also helps replace appliances, furniture or essential clothing.

“Today we are announcing federal charges against individuals who abused the goodwill of the taxpayers and claimed losses that they had not incurred,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced in a statement. “These investigations are ongoing, and we are not done holding people accountable for fraudulent claims.”

In all, four defendants were charged with one count of fraud for claiming a home that burned down in Paradise was their primary residence. The other two indictments were sealed.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rswan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @rachelswan

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