In a New Orleans federal courtroom last week, Freddie Ross, Jr., known by her stage name Big Freedia, pled guilty to a charge of federal government theft related to housing vouchers.
The bounce music star is highly regarding for putting the music genre on the map and being a spokesperson for the LGBT community, getting a nomination for the 2011 GLAAD Media Awards.
According to The Times-Picayune, a bill of information charged the internationally known music star with stealing more than $1,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development between 2010 and 2014. U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office accused her of continuing to receive housing assistance after she was making too much money to be eligible for it. Freedia acknowledged in a March 1 statement that she continued to receive aid as her fame quickly ascended and her “financial situation changed.”
During those four years, Freedia was receiving Section 8 housing vouchers for HUD that, in effect, gave her landlords hundreds of dollars in rent subsidies from the federal government each month.
“This is an incredibly unfortunate situation,” Freedia said in an emailed statement to NOLA’s local CBS affiliate. “I was on subsidized housing for many years before my financial situation changed. I quickly found myself in a new economic structure and, frankly, knew little about how to handle my money. It wasn’t until recently (after I had stopped receiving housing vouchers) that it became very clear I had received assistance to which I wasn’t entitled. It was an oversight – but one that I take full responsibility for.”
Because the entertainer acknowledged her mistake, she was able to enter a plea deal of $34,800 in restitution but did not solidified if jail time will come into effect. The maximum penalty for a crime of this sort can be ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A final sentence will be made June 16.
The timing of all this is what’s most suspicious, as Freedia didn’t get the call from the Feds until after the release of “Formation”, Beyoncé’s politically charged song that brings attention to the economic and social devastation New Orleans felt post-Hurricane Katrina (and really long before that).
“Housing vouchers are a vital lifeline for many people I know in New Orleans and around the country, including struggling artists,” Freedia’s statement continued. “I truly believe there needs to be more programs for artists and musicians to teach basic financial literacy and planning. Coming from where I came from, I know that I could have used that kind of assistance. I’m exploring ways to be a part of the solution in this area and am looking forward to putting this matter behind me.”
We hate to be conspiracy theorists, but it’s really sad that someone who’s contributed so much to their community —on a local and international level— is being held accountable for something easily solved by paying debts back. But ultimately, the court will decide.
Currently Freedia is touring the country promoting her “Just Be Free” album.