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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

GAO finds mismanagement in hurricane aidl - By LARRY MARGASAK

The government doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, getting 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 all were able to wrongly get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation's disaster relief agency.
 
Agents from the General Accountability Office, 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 help to individuals after the two hurricanes was unwarranted.
 
The findings are detailed in testimony, obtained by The Associated Press, that is to be delivered at a hearing Wednesday by the House Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations.
 
To dramatize the problem, GAO provided lawmakers with a copy of a $2,358 U.S. Treasury check for rental assistance that an undercover agent got 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.
 
"This is an assault on the American taxpayer," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee that will conduct the hearing. "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."
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