Hurricane aid 'paid for a holiday, porn, football and champagne'
""We should look at prosecuting these crimes""
Published Date: 15 June 2006
By LARRY MARGASAK
THE United States government paid for sports season tickets, a sex change, a Caribbean holiday and even a divorce lawyer as up to $1.4 billion (£760 million) in aid for alleged victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita was misused, it was revealed yesterday.
Houston divorce lawyer Mark Lipkin says he cannot recall anyone paying for his services with a special debit card issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but congressional investigators say one of his clients did just that.
The ADVERTISEMENT$1,000 payment was only
one example cited in a catalogue of scams. Prisoners, 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 further damages the US disaster relief agency.
The abuses came to light as officials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before a House committee yesterday on their findings. Michael McCaul, of Texas, the chairman of a sub-committee overseeing an investigation of post-hurricane aid, called the bogus spending "an assault on the American taxpayer".
He said: "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."
Aaron Walker, a FEMA spokesman, said the agency, already criticised for its poor response to Katrina, placed the highest priority during a disaster on getting help "quickly to those in desperate need of our assistance".
FEMA has identified more than 1,500 cases of potential fraud after Katrina and Rita, and it has referred those cases to the homeland security department's inspector general.
The GAO said it found people put up in hotels had often been paid twice, as FEMA gave them individual rental assistance and also paid hotels directly.
In one case, FEMA paid an individual $2,358 in rental assistance, while at the same time paying about $8,000 for the same person to stay 70 nights at more than $100 per night in a Hawaii hotel.
Among the items purchased with FEMA's emergency debit cards were an all-inclusive, one-week holiday in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic; five season tickets for the New Orleans Saints American football team; adult erotica products, and Dom Perignon champagne.
The GAO also told the hearing about an individual who used 13 different social security numbers - including their own - to receive $139,000 in payments on 13 separate registrations for aid. All the payments were sent to a single address.
GAO is scritinizing $1,000 checks, but over $10 Trillion has been robbed from the US taxpayers and not one person is in jail.