The Queen of Bounce has been charged with stealing from Uncle Sam.
Federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday that Freddie Ross Jr. — better known by her stage name Big Freedia — stole from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development between 2010 and December 2014. She was charged in court documents with theft of government funds, a felony.
The New Orleans native and touring phenomenon said in a statement that she already has begun making arrangements to pay back roughly $34,000 for federal housing vouchers. She called the entire situation “incredibly unfortunate.”
Big Freedia has been well-known on a local level since the 1990s, but her star only took off nationally after a 2010 album release and the launch of a reality television show in 2013.
During the period in which prosecutors allege she was stealing federal funds, she toured across the country and appeared on shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Big Freedia said she had been on subsidized housing for many years before her financial prospects brightened.
“I quickly found myself in a new economic structure and, frankly, knew little about how to handle my money,” Freedia said. “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.”
She faces a statutory maximum 10-year sentence and up to $250,000 in fines, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite.
WWL-TV reported that the vouchers involved were part of the federal government’s Section 8 housing program.
Big Freedia’s attorney, Tim Kappel, said she was first contacted by investigators in late November. She offered to take part in a pre-trial diversion program, but prosecutors opted to charge her with a felony instead, Kappel said.
Kappel declined to speculate on potential punishments but did say that “no one has talked about any sort of jail time.”
Big Freedia said she offered cooperation from the outset of the joint investigation by the FBI, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Housing Authority of New Orleans.
She described the housing vouchers as a “vital lifeline” for struggling artists and called for more financial literacy programs.
“I’m exploring ways to be a part of the solution in this area and am looking forward to putting this matter behind me,” she said.
Big Freedia is scheduled to perform at Siberia on Saturday and to appear in court on March 16.