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| Crime |

Katrina scammer to taxpayers: My bad, totally

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We get so many letters from prisoners proclaiming their innocence of any and all misdeeds that it's curiously refreshing when one admits that he did something wrong. Wrong and dumb. So this recent, neatly typed apology from Charles W. Wimberly, resident of a federal prison in Tucson, caught our attention:

I am writing this letter to you because I know you reach a lot of people with your publication and I imagine that it was very disturbing to your readers to see people take advantage of this horrible disaster and use it for their own benefits. I am sorry!

Mr. Wimberly and his wife, Jelissa, collected more than $48,000 in evacuee aid after Hurricane Katrina, telling relief workers that they'd had to flee a home in Mississippi. The only problem with the story is that they both lived in Colorado at the time, working with an ice cream company in Commerce City. Charles, who claimed to be the mastermind of this ingenious scheme, got thirty months in the big house for theft of public money; Jelissa got probation.

Now Wimberly wants to explain.

I know that there is no excuse for my actions, but I would still like to paint a picture of what was going on in my life back in 2005.... I was just laid off from Dreyers Grand Ice Cream after four years of service and I had an 18-month-old daughter and a newborn son to care for.... I was desperate.

Wimberly says this was his first crime -- okay, his first felony, if you want to get technical about it -- in years. His release date is October 6, 2010, but he has learned that the mother of his children "is unable to care for his babies" and they might end up in foster care before he can get back to them. Which gets us to the crux of his letter.

I know I messed up, but do two innocent children deserve to spend their youth bouncing around from one foster home to the next? Wouldn't society benefit more by having me commit my time and energy to raising my children and having them become more productive members of society?

It is true that society will pay more, over time, to incarcerate Wimberly than he ever stole in his hurricane scam. It could well be true, as Wimberly claims, that he's stayed out of trouble in the joint, improved the prison library and tried to stay in contact with his kids, now four and five years old.

I guess I am just writing you, as one of the voices of the community, to ask for your forgiveness, and to also let you know that not one penny was worth being separated from the two most important people in my life. I also accept "open mindedly" any comments or criticisms that you want to send my way.

Any comments for Mr. Wimberly posted here will be brought to his attention.

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