Brothers who ran Hurricane Katrina donation scam sentenced

Fake Salvation Army site lands brothers in the slammer

Two brothers convicted of running a phony Salvation Army Web site that purportedly raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims were both sentenced to more than 100 months in jail.

Steven Stephens, 24, and Bartholomew Stephens, 27, both of Texas, were sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Houston. Bartholomew Stephens was hit with 105 months in federal prison, while his brother received 111 months. And both will be under supervised release for three years once they are released from prison.

Both men were convicted on six charges of wire fraud and two charges of aggravated identity theft.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, more than 250 people were victims of the Stephens' scheme.

The brothers were convicted in June after a four-day trial. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, they registered a Web site called www.salvationarmyonline.org on Sept. 3, 2005, less than a week after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and left people homeless from Mississippi to Texas. The page stated that it was "The Salvation Army International Home Page" and fraudulently claimed that it was collecting donations for the hurricane victims.

The brothers would pull the same scam after Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast later that month.

The Web site directed potential donors to a PayPal account, which the Stephens' set up using stolen names and Social Security numbers. However, the government noted during the trial that the PayPal accounts were linked to the brothers' bank accounts.

Their fraudulent Web site collected more than US$48,000 before the corresponding PayPal accounts were frozen because of reports of fraud, according to the prosecution.

The investigation, which was handled under the DOJ's Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, was run by the FBI and the Social Security Administration Office.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
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