But the church, as Johnson later admitted, sat more than 100 miles north of the coast in Marengo County, and did not sustain a scratch in the storm.
Most of the $20,000 awarded to the church by the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund wound up supporting a personal spending spree for Johnson, prosecutors said, ranging from hotel rooms to restaurants to purchases at the clothing store New York Hi Style.
On Friday, Chief U.S. District Judge William Steele sentenced Johnson, 28, of Mount Vernon, to almost three years in prison for mail fraud, and ordered him to repay the Bush-Clinton fund.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Sigler held to the plea bargain in recommending the minimum sentence under advisory guidelines. But, he said, Johnson's conduct stood out among the roughly 100 Katrina fraud cases that his office has prosecuted.
"Frankly, I thought I had seen my worst FEMA case when one defendant stole his dead brother's identity," Sigler said.
At least the defendant in that fake ID crime was seeking shelter. Johnson, by contrast, apparently was motivated by pure greed. Sigler said.
According to court records, Johnson applied for funds in July 2006 for Myrtlewood AOH Church in Sweet Water, where he served as pastor. He falsely stated that the hurricane damaged the church's roof and caused mold on the inside ceiling.