A former Massachusetts man pleaded guilty Tuesday to a mail fraud scheme to gain access to Federal Emergency Management Agency relief funds after a tornado hit the state three years ago.
Robbie Rossi, 42, falsely reported in August 2011 that he was renting a residence at 71 New Bridge Street in West Springfield so that he could receive federal rental assistance, according to court documents. He received more than $12,000 in disaster relief funds made available to victims of the severe storm and tornado outbreak that hit Massachusetts on June 1, 2011, according to a press release from Connecticut's United States Attorney's Office.
President Barack Obama declared parts of Massachusetts, including Springfield and West Springfield, as "major disaster" zones and authorized FEMA to provide disaster relief funds to qualifying residents who the 2011 tornado affected.
Rossi claimed that he "suffered as a result of the tornado" and that he left the home because it was inhabitable, according to court documentation. He provided false rent payment documentation to FEMA for that home and other addresses after the tornado struck.
However, the West Springfield assessor and postmaster told the Department of Homeland Security that the address Rossi claimed he lived at there was "not a valid or deliverable address in West Springfield," according to court documents.
Rossi received payments at seven addresses that he provided to FEMA between August 2011 and April 2013, including one at 97 Green Valley Drive in Enfield. The other addresses were in Massachusetts and Florida. When Rossi cashed the check sent to the Enfield address, he presented the Enfield International Services Check Cashing owner with a New York State driver's license with a Brooklyn address, according to court documents. Postal records did not show him as receiving mail there, the court records state. Most of the payments were electronically transferred and Rossi accessed them through a prepaid bank card that he used at Florida businesses, according to the arrest warrant.
Rossi and and individual identified as Richard Letguard, a false name, told FEMA that "Letguard" was his landlord at the West Sprinfield in an attempt to verify that he lived there, according to court documents. Investigators verified that the man Rossi claimed was his landlord was actually Richard Lentendre, of 64 New Bridge Street, West Springfield, who has a criminal history of "indecent assault and battery on a child, theft, receiving stolen property, and drug possession," according to the court documents. Letendre is also associated with an address in Chicopee where Rossi falsified rental documents as part of the mail fraud scheme, according to court documents.
Investigators identified the home showed in the storm damage photos submitted to FEMA as a neighboring house at 75 New Bridge Street. When the homeowner or the female tenant who lived there during the tornado were questioned, they told investigators that they didn't know Rossi and that neither of them had submitted claims to FEMA for disaster relief. Rossi's listed address was 74 New Bridge Street in West Springield upon completion of his application for FEMA aid.
Rossi is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 18, 2014 and faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
He will pay $12,718 in restitution for the FEMA funds he frauduently received.
Rossi has been in custody since he was arrested in January in Las Vegas.
The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigated and the Las Vegas branch of the U.S. Secret Service assisted.
Rossi has a crimal history and there are still outstanding arrest warrants in Enfield, Chicopee, Springfield, and Northhampton, Massachusetts, Brevard County, Florida and New York for burglaries, credit card and identity thefts and larceny incidents, according to the court documents.