A Woodland Hills couple pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that they filed false disaster relief claims with federal agencies after two natural disasters, authorities said.
Douglas Maskart, 53, and Joyce Maskart, 44, were indicted by a federal grand jury on Oct. 18 for allegedly filing fraudulent claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration that brought them more than $13,000 in assistance after the 1992 Southern California floods and the Jan. 17 earthquake, according to the U. S. Attorney's Office.
"This is the first incident of someone . . . who has taken advantage of two natural disasters," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Nathan Hochman. "Fraudulent conduct like the Maskarts prevents FEMA and SBA from fulfilling the needs of truly desperate people."
The Maskarts' trial is scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court on Dec. 13.
To date, FEMA has issued more than 363,108 checks to Northridge quake victims totaling $1.004 billion for temporary housing, emergency repairs and mortgage and rental assistance.
After the severe floods of February, 1992, the Maskarts applied to FEMA and SBA for compensation for damage to their home in the 4500 block of San Blas Avenue in Woodland Hills. They filed forged monthly rental receipts using the address of another home they owned in the 22000 block of Covello Street in Canoga Park and received 18 months of rental assistance from FEMA totaling $11,256, Hochman said.
Under FEMA regulations, the Maskarts would not have been eligible for assistance funds to live in their second home.
Following the Jan. 17 earthquake, the Maskarts filed three separate FEMA applications for disaster relief. One application listed the San Blas Avenue house as their primary home, while the other two listed the Covello Avenue house as their primary residence, Hochman said. They received a total of $2,300 in FEMA assistance based on their applications.
They also submitted four false disaster home loan applications with the Small Business Administration after the earthquake, all declined. Although the Maskarts had claimed that they had not lived at the San Blas Avenue home since the floods, they stated on the applications that they lost $34,380 in personal belongings including Waterford crystal, electronic equipment and a piano.
If convicted, the Maskarts could be sentenced to up to 110 years in prison and fined as much as $5.5 million.
Since the government began filing fraud charges in such cases, more than $12.9 million has been voluntarily returned to FEMA by people who improperly received the assistance, authorities said. They were not prosecuted.