GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Brent Warr pleaded guilty Friday morning to one count of FEMA fraud. However, the other 19 counts in the federal indictment filed against Warr were dismissed. So was the entire case against his wife.
Warr pleaded guilty to count seven of this 20 count federal indictment. That count accused Warr of filing a claim for FEMA disaster assistance benefits and receiving those benefits, even though he knew he wasn't entitled to them.
The former Gulfport mayor once said he would never agree to a plea bargain, because he was innocent. Yet on Friday, when federal judge Walter Gex asked are you in fact guilty of count seven, Warr said one word, "Yes."
Moments later, he said his decision to admit his guilt to this single count was a victory for his family. "I've gotta be honest with you. We feel good," Warr said.
Warr had his wife by his side, and his friends around him as he read a prepared statement about his guilty plea. "We now feel like we can walk out of here and breathe a little easier and begin the process of rebuilding our family, just as the entire community is having to rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina," he explained.
A house at 1814 Beach Boulevard was at the center of Warr's legal troubles. In September, October, and November of 2005, Warr received $9,558 from FEMA. He got that money because he filed disaster assistance forms with the agency, claiming the family lived in the beachfront home when Katrina hit the coast. However, an assistant U.S. Attorney said in court she had proof this home was not Warr's primary residence at the time of the storm.
Because he pleaded guilty to that charge, Warr was asked if we wanted to apologize to the people who may have applied for assistance and didn't get assistance when he did, through fraudulent means.
"I hope that those who have questions about that will look into all this," was his response. "Because there's been a lot of good work done by this legal team. And I hope the community as a whole can benefit from it."
Outside the courthouse, Warr's defense team felt a sense of vindication. Frank Trapp was Laura Warr's defense attorney. "What I would say is this was a bitter pill for a man to swallow and a noble act for his family," he said.
Warr was sentenced to three years probation. He must pay back the $9,558 to FEMA by Monday. And in the next six months, he must complete 100 hours of community service. Because Warr pleaded guilty to count seven, the government agreed to dismiss all charges against his wife.
Joe Sam Owen was his attorney. "You know sometimes decisions you make in a case doesn't necessarily equate with innocence or guilt," said Owen.
The 20 count indictment filed against the Warrs in August accused them of bilking more than $697,000 from the federal government, the Mississippi Development Authority, and a variety of lending institutions. However, because of the plea agreement, only FEMA will get its money back. And that payment will be just $9,558.
The guilty plea does mean Brent Warr is now a felon. So he loses certain privileges. For instance, he can no longer own a gun.