By Marla E. Nobles
The federal government sent another ringing message to charity scammers thinking about taking advantage of public goodwill during times of disaster: you scam, you serve.
Two Houston brothers each were sentenced last month to more than eight years for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft as a result of fraudulently operating a Web site that claimed to raise money on behalf of the Salvation Army for Hurricane Katrina victims. The fraudulent Web site, prosecutors said, collected more than $48,000 before anyone caught on.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced Steven Stephens, 24, to serve a total of 111 months. Bartholomew Stephens, 27, will serve a total of 105 months. A jury convicted the pair after a four-day trial in June.
The Stephens case is just one example of the more than 2,400 Katrina relief Web sites believed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to be fraudulent.
More recently, as Southern California burned this past October criminals began setting up bogus Web sites and soliciting donations. According to the FBI, in the days following the California wildfires fraudsters flooded the Internet with fake charity sites.
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