Big Freedia won’t be going to jail after misrepresenting her income and receiving public housing assistance. The entertainer was sentenced to three years probation for welfare fraud.
via New Orleans Advocate:
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk also ordered the entertainer to serve community service and pay a $35,000 fine.
“Please do not mistake kindness for weakness,” Africk said, warning Big Freedia to avoid a relapse into substance abuse. “You have the advantage of not only keeping yourself healthy and unaddicted but also acting as a role model for others.”
Big Freedia, whose real name is Freddie Ross Jr., pleaded guilty in March to stealing nearly $35,000 in federal housing voucher money, admitting to fraudulently accepting Section 8 vouchers over a period of several years. Prosecutors said that Big Freedia, in her applications to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, claimed assets and income far below what she actually had been earning.
In her first bid for Section 8 assistance, in March 2009, she claimed a monthly income of between $100 and $1,000 and no additional assets. Even after she had become a major star, propelled to fame by her reality TV show, she purported to have made just $12,000 in 2014 and that she had only $250 in the bank.
Federal authorities said Big Freedia in fact had been earning money from performances and merchandising, in addition to her reality show. In pleading guilty, Big Freedia signed a factual basis acknowledging she “should have, but did not, notify HANO of (her) increased income in 2010, which would have rendered (her) ineligible to receive Section 8 benefits.”
She faced a maximum of 10 years in prison but a far lesser penalty under federal sentencing guidelines.
Big Freedia accepted responsibility for her crime after releasing an initial statement in which she suggested that financial illiteracy had prompted her to accept the housing voucher money. On Thursday, she told Africk she was “very embarrassed” by her decision to underreport her income. “I am at fault for my criminal conduct,” she said.