Wednesday, June 14, 2006

FEMA cards paid for handbags, strip clubs

Nation: The GAO releasing a report that repeats facts people were screaming about when the debit card program started. Some people used the cards to go wild.

The government doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and was hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and even a divorce lawyer, congressional investigators have 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 were able to wrongly get taxpayer help, according to the Government Accountability Office. Agents from the investigative arm of Congress went undercover to expose the ease of receiving disaster expense checks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The GAO concluded that as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in FEMA aid to individuals after the two hurricanes was unwarranted.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Problems with the distribution of federal disaster assistance after hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused potential fraud and waste topping $1 billion, an audit by the Government Accountability Office found. Debit cards given to people displaced by the storms were improperly used to buy diamond jewelry, a vacation in the Dominican Republic, fireworks, a $200 bottle of champagne at a Hooters in San Antonio and $300 worth of "Girls Gone Wild" videos, the audit found. According to the GAO, $1,000 from a FEMA debit card went to a Houston divorce lawyer, $600 was spent in a strip club and $400 was spent on "adult erotica products," all of which auditors concluded were "not necessary to satisfy legitimate disaster needs." The GAO concluded that at least $1 billion in disaster relief payments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were improper and potentially fraudulent because the recipients provided incomplete or incorrect information when they registered for assistance. ....The GAO concluded that the potentially fraudulent payments occurred because FEMA did not validate the identity of registrants and the locations and ownership of purportedly damaged property before it began making payments. While conceding that FEMA acted out of the need to provide assistance quickly, GAO investigators concluded the agency's own policies required additional verification before continuing payments. The GAO study also found FEMA improperly provided rental assistance to people who were staying in hotels paid for by FEMA because the agency did not require hotels to collect Social Security numbers and FEMA registration information.
Snopes has more details on some of the wilder shopping sprees that went on. But imagine if FEMA had stopped to throughly check each request as they should have, Anderson Cooper would have been crying on television about the Feds not getting help fast enough and rationalizing that in a time of need, you must overlook some things to get it done. It would be either him or Brian Williams of NBC news.

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