Big Freedia pleads guilty to Section 8 theft

David Hammer talks about a plea agreement involving Big Freedia and federal housing voucher fraud.

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans rapper and reality TV star Big Freedia pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to stealing nearly $35,000 in Section 8 low-income housing vouchers between 2010 and 2014.

Known as the “Queen of Bounce” for popularizing the unique form of New Orleans rap called bounce music around the world, Big Freedia’s real name is Freddie Ross Jr.

He was charged and referred to by federal prosecutors as a man.

Big Freedia thanked his fans for their support as he walked into court with his reality TV crew in tow and wearing his purple hair long and straight over a black velvet jacket, with sequins shoes and glittery fingernails.

He then pleaded guilty and admitted to taking vouchers he knew he didn’t qualify for. He was released on a $25,000 bond and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 16. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, as well as having to pay back the value of the stolen vouchers.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk started the arraignment proceedings by asking Big Freedia how the court should address him. “No preference,” Big Freedia said.

Africk went on to refer to him as “Ms. Ross” several times.

Big Freedia later signed paperwork admitting that he got $695 a month in federal housing vouchers from February 2011 to December 2014, by telling government officials each year that he was making anywhere from $12,000 to $14,400 a year, which was below the low-income threshold of $21,700 a year to qualify for Section 8.

In reality, special agents from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Inspector General’s Office uncovered financial records showing Big Freedia was making much more, from international concert tours, his TV show on the Fuse Network and Big Freedia merchandise sales. He hit a new high in popularity recently when he appeared in Beyonce’s “Formation” video.

Big Freedia’s attorney, Tim Kappel, has said he tried to negotiate a deal for Big Freedia to avoid a conviction in exchange for paying restitution and performing community service too, but the government rejected that and charged Big Freedia.

But in court Wednesday, prosecutor Jordan Ginsberg laid out a devastating picture of how Big Freedia repeatedly lied to the federal government and the Housing Authority of New Orleans to keep getting the vouchers.

In his initial Section 8 application in 2009, Freddie Ross Jr. claimed he was making between $100 and $1,000 a month, court records show. But as his star quickly rose as Big Freedia in 2010 and beyond, he moved to an apartment on Warrington Drive in Gentilly and got an additional $100 a month in vouchers.

Each year, he would file another sworn statement understating his income and assets to get the vouchers, the government alleged and Big Freedia admitted.

For instance, he claimed his assets were just $250 in 2014, allowing him to collect $6,136 in housing vouchers that year.

Judge Lance Africk told Big Freedia in court: "This crime is much more than an oversight. Do you understand that?" To which the star said: "Yes."
Kappel

addressed his client's responsibility in a press conference afterwards.

“As we have acknowledged, this is an incredibly unfortunate situation for which my client unequivocally accepts responsibility,” Kappel said. “Freedia has cooperated with the government at every stage of their investigation and her guilty plea today is another step forward in putting this matter behind us.”


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