Jim Kouri
September 15, 2006
DOJ to prosecute thousands for Katrina fraud and corruption
By Jim Kouri

The US Justice Department has charged more than 400 government and charity workers for illegally benefiting from Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing flooding, according to their report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

"Disaster relief agencies have reported to law enforcement that they have identified thousands of questionable or possibly fraudulent payments to purported hurricane victims," the DOJ report stated.

A multi-agency fraud task force posted in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has received more than 6,500 complaints or tips for investigators to pursue. The tips are coming from Katrina victims who are witnessing fraud by government officials, charity workers, and disaster recipients of financial or material assistance.

The effect of this report is so strong that ineligible recipients of aid have voluntarily returned $18.2 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross, according to federal prosecutors working on these fraud cases.

The majority of the cases involved people attempting to obtain assistance from FEMA or the Red Cross. There were also many cases of identity theft, procurement fraud and public corruption which are being investigated.

While prior reports and media stories addressed fraud committed by supposed Katrina victim, this new report reveals that the task force found a "particularly distressing pattern of criminal activity" involving government and charity insiders. The accused include employees or contractors with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of Labor and the Red Cross.

The report, however, doesn't mention how high up the corruption goes in these agencies' hierarchy.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said during a recent press conference, "We must ensure that the criminals who have exploited this time of human suffering are brought to justice and that their crimes do not undermine the programs intended to rebuild the homes, businesses and communities destroyed."

In connection to the report, Gonzales met with about 170 police and prosecutors investigating fraud cases surrounding hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. The report was sent to the National Association of Chiefs of Police's Fraud/White Collar Crime Committee, and other law enforcement organizations.

Of the fraud prosecutions already adjudicated totaling 323 cases 115 were in Louisiana, 79 in California, 50 in Texas, 48 in Mississippi and 31 in Florida.

"We have taken a zero-tolerance position against those who would use a national tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina to line their pockets with money intended for victims," said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang.

"Victims of the hurricane should know that we will do everything to ensure that aid graciously donated by fellow Americans will reach those in need. And those wanting to assist and lend a hand to those less fortunate should know that any scam targeting their generosity will be shut down and those responsible will be punished to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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