Certain guests at Daniel Yeh’s hotel in Galveston after Hurricane Katrina had rooms paid for by FEMA, and Yeh probably thought he’d latched onto an easy way to guaranteed guests and payments. Problem was, the guests weren’t really guests or Katrina evacuees, or the rooms were unoccupied, or were even occupied with paying guests.
Yeh, 55, of Sugarland, Texas, an owner of the Flagship Hotel (a Galveston landmark which sits on piers over Gulf of Mexico waters and suffered damages from Hurricane Ike) was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $30,000 in fines on September 26 because of his scheme.
Yeh has already repaid about $232,000 to the government in restitution, not long after search warrants were served on him in December, 2005. He had faced a maximum of five years in prison without parole and fines of up to $250,000. His sentencing originally had been set for Feb. 1, 2008.
His attorneys had filed a defense motion for a lower sentence because of a claim that diminished mental capacity due to a brain tumor caused him to hatch the scheme. The federal judge rightfully called the medical testimony comparable to “Alice in Wonderland”.
A 39-count 2006 indictment alleged that between October 1, 2005, and December 15, 2005, Yeh knowingly devised a scheme to defraud the federal disaster relief programs of at least $232,000.
In October 2005, Yeh gave a desk clerk about 30 names to put into the hotel’s reservation system at the “FEMA rate” of $84.99 a night. He then picked up the room cards for the rooms and started billing FEMA. An investigation found a number of those people were Yeh’s employees, relatives and friends and were not hurricane evacuees
Yeh pled guilty in 2007 and admitted he submitted a false claim to FEMA for Room 701 at the Flagship from Oct. 28 through Nov. 11, 2005. Based on that claim, FEMA paid the hotel $1,189.
The investigation started when agents got a tip saying the hotel records showed it as full when, in fact, a significant number of rooms were unoccupied. Federal agents say they interviewed a man whose name was listed on Yeh’s claims as the guest, but the man (a contractor who submitted bids in 2004 and 2005 for remodeling jobs at the Flagship and another hotel Yeh is associated with) said he didn’t have a room at the Flagship then.
As part of the alleged scheme, Yeh took over the job of billing the federal lodging programs online after Hurricane Rita, filing false claims for reimbursement for rooms in the names of hotel employees who had stayed at the Flagship free as part of their employment arrangement; rooms in the name of supposed hurricane evacuees on dates when the rooms were occupied by paying hotel guests with different names; rooms occupied by friends, relatives, and employees of his wife’s business, who were recruited to stay at the hotel, but were not evacuees; rooms in the names of supposed hurricane evacuees who never had rooms; rooms in the name of supposed hurricane evacuees on dates when those rooms were unoccupied; and for multiple rooms in the names of a single guest when, in fact, the guest didn’t occupy as many rooms.
Yeh has been free on bond and a date hasn’t yet been set for him to report to prison.
You have to wonder how many other hotels took advantage of the system back then. And that corruption is shamefully greater than that done by any Katrina evacuee or undeserving individual.
Anyone suspecting criminal activity involving disaster assistance programs can make an anonymous report by calling the toll-free Hurricane Relief Fraud Hotline, 1-866-720-5721 or 1-800-CALL-FBI, 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.
Information can also be emailed to the inspector general at dhso...@dhs.gov or sent by snail mail, with as many details as possible, to:
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC. 20528
Attn: Office of Inspector General, Hotline