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    Woman accused of false claim of Sept. 11 death

    She did not lose her husband at the World Trade Center, investigators say. She tried to obtain relief funds.

    By AMY HERDY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 23, 2002

    TAMPA -- Authorities say Amelia Varela was living in a Town 'N Country apartment when she traveled to New York in early October and said her husband had been killed in the World Trade Center attacks.

    She claimed he was a maintenance worker in one of the towers and filled out a death certificate. Her daughter began collecting Social Security benefits.

    She was preparing to cash in a $250,000 life insurance policy, said Hillsborough sheriff's Lt. Rod Reder.

    The only problem, Reder said, is that none of it was true: Her estranged husband was alive and well in Miami.

    Varela, 34, was one of 23 people nationwide charged this week with falsely reporting the death of a family member.

    The goal was to obtain relief funds set aside for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    Some of the family members never existed. Others were still alive, or had died earlier, officials said.

    In all, more than $760,000 in government and relief funds were provided to scam artists, much of it from agencies such as the Red Cross and the Social Security Administration. More than half of those charged are from the New York area.

    Varela, of 6606 Camden Bay Drive, was working at a West Shore hotel when she went to New York, Reder said. Investigators are still trying to determine how much money she received, Reder said. They think she took at least $5,000.

    A warrant for her arrest was sent to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, and a detective tracked her to a hotel in Miami, where Miami authorities picked her up Thursday night.

    She was charged with felony grand larceny.

    -- Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

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