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Texas minister, family sentenced in hurricane relief fraud case

An East Texas minister and his family have been sentenced to federal prison for using hurricane relief funds to pay for personal expenses and fund their Jasper church.

Walter Diggles, 66, the former executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, was sentenced Tuesday to 9 years behind bars. Diggles was also ordered to pay more than $1.3 million in restitution. His wife and daughter, Rosie and Anita Diggles, were each sentenced to more than four years in prison and ordered to pay about $970,000 in joint restitution.

Walter Diggles and his wife were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in August 2017. Their 42-year-old daughter was convicted of a conspiracy charge.

Trial evidence shows the Diggles defrauded federal authorities out of recovery funds intended for hurricanes Rita, Katrina, Ike and Dolly.

Walter Diggles was a “registered agent” of the Deep East Texas Foundation, a nonprofit that continued to operate after Texas forfeited its charter in 2007. According to prosecutors, he inflated the amount his foundation needed for social service programs, receiving about $4.4 million from 2007 to 2012 through federal Social Services Block Grant funds.

Diggles used about $1.3 million on personal expenses. The money was also funneled to pay rent at Lighthouse Church, where he was a pastor.

Prosecutors said members of the Lighthouse Church operated an after-school program, and that Rosie and Anita Diggles prepared documents and reimbursement packets to request funds in support of the learning center.

“The defendants stole from the taxpayers, and these kinds of frauds take money away from real people – disaster victims,” said Joseph Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. “This was an appropriate sentence, and hopefully it will help deter some of this type of behavior the next time.”

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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