Over 100 allege fraud was committed against FEMA after hurricane

Fla. attorney general's office is called with reports

February 13, 2005|By Sally Kestin | Sally Kestin,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Since Hurricane Charley slammed into the state Aug. 13, more than 110 people throughout Florida have contacted the state attorney general to report fraud against the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

People told of applicants pouring water on their belongings, collecting checks for furniture they didn't own and claiming damage to appliances that weren't working before the storms.

The attorney general did not investigate and referred the complaints to the inspector general for FEMA's umbrella agency.

Contacted by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, more than a dozen of those who filed fraud complaints, including an Alachua County sheriff's detective, described a "runaround" that included hours on the phone.

Fraud from the hurricanes has so far focused on Miami-Dade, where FEMA's payments of $30.8 million to residents of a county spared any hurricane-force conditions has touched off a U.S. Senate committee investigation. But the attorney general complaints allege cheating throughout the state.

In Lake Hamilton, in central Florida, Betty Holmes and her husband reported that they know of someone who received FEMA money for appliances he didn't own.

In Starke, in north Florida, a caller told the attorney general that residents were "reporting damages to their home and belongings that were not affected by the hurricane," her complaint says.

Fraud and overpayments typically account for an estimated 3 percent of the money FEMA awards local governments and individuals in a disaster but are running about 1 percent so far in Florida, where the agency has handed out more than $2 billion, FEMA Director Michael Brown said Friday. The complaints to the attorney general did not surprise Brown.

"If you assume that half of them are true, we're still below, well below, that 3 percent average in a disaster," he said. "That's a pretty darn good track record."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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