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Storm's ill-gotten gains are returned

Some fraud artists who tried to make a fast buck off Hurricane Andrew are repenting.

Federal officials say that in recent days they have gotten several calls from people asking if they can return money received through false claims filed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Three or four have actually walked in and handed back the checks," FEMA spokesman Phil Cogan said Thursday.

Last week, the FBI arrested Mary Beggs, 32, of Fort Lauderdale, after she allegedly filed an application seeking up to $11,500 in federal aid to repair a south Dade County home that never existed.

FEMA officials made sure word got out.

A story about the arrest is featured on the front page of this week's Recovery Times, a newsletter the agency distributes at tent cities and other relief sites. It points out that the woman is facing up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Federal authorities have tried to combat fraud in part by setting up a hotline for callers with information about anyone trying to defraud the government. After Beggs' arrest, many "amateur fraud artists" began calling about themselves, Cogan said.

Authorities are telling them that if they immediately return a certified check or money order for all the money they received, they won't face prosecution, Cogan said.

No figure for the amount returned so far was immediately available.

More than $170-million in federal and state money has been distributed to hurricane victims.