$1.4 billion in bogus Katrina claims
This ought to get your blood boiling this morning:
WASHINGTON – Houston divorce lawyer Mark Lipkin says he can’t recall anyone paying for his services with a FEMA debit card, but congressional investigators say one of his clients did just that.
The $1,000 payment was just one example cited in an audit that concluded that up to $1.4 billion — perhaps as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in assistance expended after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — was spent for bogus reasons.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also was hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and a sex change operation, the audit found. Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation’s disaster relief agency.
“I do Katrina victims all the time,” Lipkin, the divorce attorney, told The Associated Press. “I didn’t know anybody did that with me. I don’t think it’s right, obviously.”
Government Accountability Office officials were testifying before a House committee Wednesday on their findings.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee overseeing an investigation of post-hurricane aid, called the bogus spending “an assault on the American taxpayer.”
“Prosecutors from the federal level down should be looking at prosecuting these crimes and putting the criminals who committed them in jail for a long time,” he said.
To dramatize the problem, investigators provided lawmakers with a copy of a $2,358 U.S. Treasury check for rental assistance that an undercover agent received using a bogus address. The money was paid even after FEMA learned from its inspector that the undercover applicant did not live at the address.