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“Zero Tolerance For Katrina Fraud” – Says AG

A friendly heads up for all our grifting friends behind Camp Casey III. Hey, Cindy, Michael, Ward, Andrea, Malik — you guys lawyered-up yet?

Department of Justice Seal

REMARKS FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES AT THE HURRICANE KATRINA FRAUD TASK FORCE CONFERENCE

New Orleans, Louisiana
October 20, 2005

It is my pleasure to be in New Orleans to join you in this conference of the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force.

As we begin our discussions, I think it’s important to remember the simplicity of our charge. We’re here for one reason: to help the citizens and communities affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In the hours, days, and weeks since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through this area, help has come from a number of sources. Americans from across the country offered relief, reached into their pockets, and opened their arms and homes to displaced families. Corporations gave generously of their expertise and resources…and federal, state, and local authorities have worked tirelessly to put the pieces back together for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and other affected areas.

In the midst of all of this outpouring of support, however, there are some who have sought to take advantage of our collective generosity and our comprehensive response as a Nation.

As you all know, that is why we created this Task Force – to safeguard the integrity of the rebuilding and recovery process. We have a responsibility to ensure that relief aid and reconstruction dollars reach the shattered communities and victims of these powerful natural disasters.

We have been focusing on fraud schemes intended to divert relief funds from the people who need them. And, also on the integrity of public officials who are responsible for awarding government contracts. Every dollar that is directed for hurricane relief should be used in the affected communities – not to pad the bank accounts of fraudsters and criminals.

The Task Force is directing its work in a few important areas:

· Government Benefit Fraud · Government Contract and Procurement Fraud · Fraudulent Charities · Insurance Fraud, and · Identity Theft

When these crimes occur, the Task Force has acted quickly and aggressively to punish those who would prey on our fellow citizens in their hour of greatest need, and deter others with swift and certain prosecution.

I appointed Alice Fisher, the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, to chair this effort. She reports that there already have been unprecedented levels of cooperation and partnership among federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Postal Inspection Service. Together there are over 30 member agencies and organizations. You each bring an important and valuable expertise to the table. Combined with those of your colleagues in this effort, your skills and specialties make this Task Force effective in its mission. The President and I appreciate your dedication…and the American people do as well.

I’m also aware that only six weeks into this work, we already have had a number of great successes.

The Task Force has secured criminal charges against a total of 42 persons for hurricane-related fraud – many of them resulting from joint investigations that highlight the cooperation made possible by this Task Force.

In California, for instance, 15 residents – including Red Cross employees from the largest Katrina call center in the country, located in Bakersfield – have been indicted for their role in an alleged scheme to defraud the American Red Cross of relief funds. The defendants allegedly obtained false claim information that allowed them to obtain direct payments from Western Union after claiming to be a victim from one of the affected areas.

In another case, the defendant was indicted for allegedly soliciting charitable contributions on the website AirKatrina.com. The defendant falsely claimed that he was piloting flights to Louisiana to provide medical supplies and evacuate children. In just two days, he had already received almost $40,000 in donations, before his fraudulent operation was shut down.

These cases – and several others like them, including many instances of people falsely claiming the $2,000 FEMA benefits – shed some light on the small group of criminals who look to profit from this tragedy.

The message of our collective effort is clear: We will not tolerate this kind of behavior in our compassionate society. Fraud will not go unpunished.

I know that this group understands what is necessary for us to collectively make good on this “ zero tolerance ” promise – made not only to those who’ve been affected by Katrina, but to every American.

When he spoke to the Nation from New Orleans, the President offered this pledge, “Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.”

This Task Force is a part of that pledge…a part of the rebuilding process. And we will do whatever it takes to get this job done.

Your work every day will dictate whether we are successful. So I urge you to rededicate yourselves – at every opportunity – to the coordination and cooperation that is necessary to effectively execute our responsibility to this region, to this country, and to our fellow citizens.

I am going to do everything I can to support you in this effort. That’s why I am pleased to announce the creation of the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force’s Joint Command Center on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

It’s easier to work together when everyone is under one roof. With this Joint Command Center, Task Force representatives from federal law enforcement, the federal community of Inspectors General, and United States Attorneys Offices can better pool their resources to ensure a coordinated attack on procurement fraud and public corruption.

In the coming weeks and months, relief funds will continue to rush into the Gulf area. And with this influx will come further opportunities for fraud.

It is imperative that we continue to work together to do our part to secure the integrity of the rebuilding process here in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf region. I appreciate the dedication you’ve shown to this mission already – but there is more to come and more to do.

The road to full recovery is long and I expect that we will be there every step of the way to support the process that helps the displaced families and disaster-stricken communities rebuild, recover, and reclaim their lives.

Thank you for your work, for your compassion and dedication. God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

And as a further public service, I will add this DOJ " fact sheet ":

U.S. Department of Justice Fact Sheet: Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force

10/20/2005 12:03:00 PM


To: National Desk

Contact: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, 202-514-2007 or 202-514-1888 (TDD), Web: http://www.USDOJ.gov

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 /U.S. Newswire/ — On Sept. 8, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales established the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force. The Task Force is charged with deterring, detecting, and prosecuting unscrupulous individuals who try to take advantage of the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita disasters. The Task Force tracks referrals of potential cases and complaints, coordinates with law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations, and works with the appropriate United States Attorneys’ Offices to ensure timely and effective prosecution of Katrina and Rita-related fraud cases. By casting a broad net and using the investigative assets of federal law enforcement agencies, federal Inspectors General, and state and local law enforcement-together with the prosecution resources of the 94 United States Attorneys’ Offices-the Task Force is positioned to act quickly and aggressively to bring to justice those who would further victimize the victims of these natural disasters.

The Task Force is combating all types of fraud relating to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with a particular emphasis on the following areas:

— Fraudulent Charities: Cases in which individuals falsely hold themselves out as agents of a legitimate charity, or create a "charity" that is in fact not legitimate;

— Identity Theft: Cases in which the identities of innocent victims are stolen and assumed by criminals who convert the funds of, or otherwise defraud, the victims;

— Government-Benefit Fraud: Cases in which individuals file false applications seeking benefits to which they are not entitled;

— Government-Contract and Procurement Fraud: Cases in which individuals and companies engage in fraud related to federal funds provided for the repair and restoration of infrastructure, businesses, and government agencies in the affected region; and

— Insurance Fraud: Cases in which false or inflated insurance claims are filed.

TASK FORCE MEMBERS

The Attorney General appointed Alice S. Fisher, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, as the chair of the Task Force.

The Task Force includes the following members:

— Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);

— The Criminal, Civil, and Antitrust Divisions of the Department of Justice;

— The Executive Office for the United States Attorneys;

— United States Attorney’s Offices in the Gulf region and throughout the country;

— United States Postal Inspection Service;

— United States Secret Service;

— Federal Trade Commission;

— Securities and Exchange Commission;

— Internal Revenue Service;

— Department of Homeland Security;

— Inspectors General from 57 federal departments and agencies;

— Representatives of state and local law enforcement, including the National Association of Attorneys General, and the National District Attorneys Association.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

In the six weeks since the Task Force was established, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and a variety of investigative agencies — including the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service, the Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) — have already brought more than 40 prosecutions stemming from a diverse range of crimes related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The prosecutions announced thus far have come from districts as far as California and Georgia and places in between. With numerous cases pending, the Task Force will continue to work aggressively, focusing on these crimes and prosecuting wherever possible. A sampling of these prosecutions include the following:

California – Central District (U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang):

— On Sept. 29, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against two individuals, charging them with violating the American Red Cross fraud statute by allegedly pretending to be American Red Cross volunteers and soliciting funds on behalf of the American Red Cross for Katrina relief. The FBI, with the cooperation of the Burbank Police Department, is investigating the case.

California – Eastern District (U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott):

— On Oct. 13, a federal grand jury returned indictments against a total of 15 California residents, charging them with wire fraud for their alleged roles in a scheme to defraud the American Red Cross of funds intended for Hurricane Katrina victims. The indictments allege that the defendants participated in a plan or scheme to defraud the American Red Cross by submitting or causing others to submit a fraudulent claim through the American Red Cross call center located in Bakersfield. The complaint explains that the American Red Cross, in an attempt to expedite payments to actual victims of Hurricane Katrina, set up at least two call centers in the U.S., the largest of which is in Bakersfield. According to the indictments, seven of the defendants were employed at the Bakersfield call center, and the other eight were closely associated with someone employed at the call center. They were allegedly able to obtain false claim information and, using that information, obtain payment from Western Union. The FBI is continuing to investigate the case.

Florida – Southern District (U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta):

— On Sept. 29, a federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against an individual, charging him with wire fraud for allegedly using the website airkatrina.com to fraudulently solicit donations to help Katrina victims. This is the first federal case in the country involving a fraudulent charity website related to Katrina. The FBI is investigating this case.

Texas – Eastern District (U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Orwig):

— On Oct. 4, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against an individual for allegedly making a false claim to FEMA for hurricane relief funds. The FBI and the Tyler, Texas Police Department are investigating the case.

Mississippi – Southern District (U.S. Attorney Dunn O. Lampton):

— As of Oct. 7, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi had filed criminal complaints against four individuals for allegedly making false claims to FEMA for hurricane relief funds. The DHS-OIG, the Postal Inspection Service, and the FBI are investigating the cases.

Oregon (U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut):

— On Oct. 12, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against a Portland, Ore., man under the mail fraud statute for allegedly making a false claim to FEMA. The indictment alleges that the defendant falsely represented that he suffered hurricane-related damage to a property located in Baton Rouge, La. The Postal Inspection Service with the DHS-OIG, the FBI, and the Secret Service are investigating the case.

PUBLIC AWARENESS TO REPORT FRAUD

The Task Force has been proactive in engaging in extensive public education and awareness about fraudulent activities through print advertisements, radio public service announcements, flyers, and Web sites.

Ways to report hurricane-related fraud:

Charity Fraud, Emergency-Benefit Fraud, and other Types of Consumer Fraud:

— Call the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or

— File an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (a joint project of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center) at http://www.ic3.gov.

Identity Theft:

— Call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free, at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338), or

— File an online complaint with the FTC at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft

Government Fraud and Public Corruption:

— Call the FBI’s tipline, 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324)

— Call the DHS Katrina Hurricane Relief Hotline at 1-866-720-5721

For more information, please visit the following Web sites:

— U.S. Department of Justice: http://www.usdoj.gov

— Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov

— U.S. Postal Inspection Service: http://www.uspis.gov

— Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov

It’s still not too late to get right with the law, guys.

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, October 22nd, 2005. Comments are currently closed.

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