RELIGION
10/10/2010 09:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Martin Denesse, La. Pastor, Sentenced For Bilking Katrina Victims

By Allen Powell II / Times-Picayune
Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) A Louisiana minister will spend two years in prison for his role in bilking Hurricane Katrina victims of more than $350,000.

The Rev. Martin A. Denesse of Homeplace, La., was sentenced Wednesday (Oct. 6) by Judicial District Judge Joy Lobrano to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in December to theft more than $500 and unauthorized use of a movable, according to Plaquemines District Attorney Charles Ballay.

Lobrano suspended 13 years of the sentence, however, and also ordered Denesse to pay restitution to his victims.

Denesse has admitted to stealing $363,000 from nearly 200 hurricane victims after promising to supply them with mobile homes because their homes were destroyed in the storm.

He will be ordered to serve five years probation and has provided the court with $22,000 cash and $225,000 in property. Denesse will be required to provide the court with $1,000 a month until he makes full restitution.

Denesse is the former pastor of Grace Harbor Christian Ministries and had been appointed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the Plaquemines Parish's official housing liaison in 2007. As the liaison, Denesse was charged with helping residents place trailers on their own property instead of living in crowded trailer parks.

However, the minister apparently misappropriated thousands of dollars residents paid him for connection fees and insurance for the trailers. Denesse also was sentenced on drug charges but he will serve that sentence concurrently.