West Virginia Woman Who Called Michelle Obama an 'Ape' Pleads Guilty to Defrauding FEMA Out of More Than $18,000

An ex-West Virginia county official who was removed from her job in 2016 over a Facebook post in which she described former first lady Michelle Obama as an "ape in heels" has now pleaded guilty to defrauding the Federal Emergency Management Agency of thousands of dollars earmarked for flood victims.

Pamela Taylor, 57, admitted that she falsely registered for more than $18,000 in relief benefits after severe flash flooding that killed 23 people—as well as causing significant damage to property—in the state in June 2016, according to a statement released by the U.S District Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.

To claim the flood benefits, Taylor told FEMA that her primary residence had been damaged by the flood and, as a result, she was staying in a rental property. Her home, however, was undamaged, and she was actually still living there when she requested the money.

Taylor has now agreed to pay restitution of $18,149.04. She will be sentenced on May 30 and could face up to 30 years in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $500,000.

"The flood was a natural disaster. Stealing from FEMA is a manmade disaster," U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said in the statement. "The floods of June 2016 were historic and devastating to thousands of West Virginians. Lives were lost. Too many of our brothers and sisters lost everything. FEMA dollars are critical but limited. Stealing critical FEMA dollars is a crime—literally and figuratively. Taylor's fraud scheme diverted disaster benefits from our most desperate and vulnerable, those most in need of help."

Special Agent Mark Tasky from the Department of Homeland Security-Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) noted that in addition to reducing the money available for actual victims, misappropriating taxpayer dollars in such a way "erodes public confidence in relief programs."

"The DHS-OIG, operating jointly with our partners in the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations and the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, worked tirelessly to bring the defendant to justice for her crimes," he said in the statement.

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor FEMA has confirmed that the Pamela Taylor who embezzled flood relief money was the same woman who was suspended as director of the Clay County Development Corporation after the Facebook post in 2016, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. However, the newspaper reported that the names and residences matched.

Taylor posted the controversial remarks about Michelle Obama to Facebook after Donald Trump had been elected president.

"It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House," the post read. "I'm tired of seeing a Ape in heels."

West Virginia, floods
People trudge through the mud left over from the flooding of the Elk River along State Route 119, on June 25, 2016, in Falling Rock, West Virginia. The flooding of the Elk River claimed the lives of at least 23 people in West Virginia. Ty Wright/Getty Images
West Virginia Woman Who Called Michelle Obama an 'Ape' Pleads Guilty to Defrauding FEMA Out of More Than $18,000 | U.S.