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Homestead Couple Gets Four Years For Hurricane-Related Fraud

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(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

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South Florida Crime

HOMESTEAD (CBSMiami) — A Homestead couple who conspired to swindle $1.3 million out of the U.S. government was sentenced to more than four years in prison Wednesday.

CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald reports the charges originate from the couple’s filing of false claims for purported hurricane-related damage to various nursery businesses.

Yaima Perez, 28, and her husband, Sergio Perez, 49, admitted in guilty pleas in May that they defrauded a federal program that provided financial assistance to nursery producers who suffered inventory losses and cleanup costs in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia, Rita and Wilma.

In 2007, Yaima Perez was elected to the Farm Service Agency’s county office committee in Homestead and became a part-time federal employee. Sergio Perez owned a nursery business, Plantas Ornamentales, and together the couple owned Perez Pizza & Bread in Homestead.

Prosecutors said the Perezes used the stolen identities of other nursery producers to file the fraudulent damage claims, and used false state agriculture certificates.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture paid the claims, and the payments were deposited into bank accounts opened by Yaima Perez, according to federal court records. More than $500,000 of those deposits were transferred to a Costa Rican company, Sunshine Bay, controlled by Sergio Perez, prosecutors said.

The husband also admitted he transferred about $700,000 — which he had received from various farmers who benefited from the federal nursery program — to Costa Rica for the purpose of buying land, records show. Another $100,000 was transferred to the couple’s accounts for Perez Pizza & Bread and Plantas Ornamentales.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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