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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Big Freedia pleads guilty to housing voucher theft charges

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 6:00 PM

click to enlarge Big Freedia with attorney Tim Kappel outside U.S. District Court in New Orleans March 16.
  • Big Freedia with attorney Tim Kappel outside U.S. District Court in New Orleans March 16.

Bounce star Big Freedia pleaded guilty in federal court today following charges that she knowingly secured Section 8 housing vouchers despite earning an income that would have disqualified her from receiving public assistance. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk set a sentencing hearing for June 16.

The charges were announced earlier this month by the U.S. Attorney's office, which alleged Freedia received housing vouchers from 2010-2014, totaling nearly $35,000. In a March 1 statement, Freedia said she received housing assistance before her financial situation changed around that time, and "it wasn’t until recently (after I had stopped receiving housing vouchers) that it became very clear I had received assistance to which I wasn’t entitled. It was an oversight — but one that I take full responsibility for." Freedia and attorney Tim Kappel said she was working with the feds to pay full restitution. State prosecutors, however, charged Freedia following an investigation with the FBI, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Housing Authority of New Orleans. "You understand this is crime was much more than an oversight?" Africk asked Freedia in court today.

Following the hearing in U.S. District Court, Freedia — in a black velvet jacket with glittering black slippers — appeared with Kappel, who said Freedia "unequivocally accepts responsibility" and that today's plea is "another step toward putting this matter behind us."

Africk did not speculate on Freedia's sentencing, though he clarified to Kappel that a quote Kappel gave "in the news" suggesting Freedia wouldn't see any jail time wasn't necessarily true. Sentencing guidelines in this case, according to the U.S. Attorneys office, could include a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The plea deal reached with prosecutors however includes Freedia's restitution of $34,849.

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