RALEIGH, N.C. -- The law enforcement arm of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns that aggressive action will be taken against any criminal attempt to defraud the federal government in connection with disaster aid for victims of Hurricane Floyd.
According to Paul J. Lillis, assistant inspector general for the Investigations Division of FEMA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the vast majority of people seeking disaster aid are legally entitled to apply for it. However, he noted that 90 individuals were either arrested or indicted over the last 18 months for disaster-related fraud, resulting in more than $3.5 million in fines, restitution and other federal savings.
"Federal disaster aid is paid with taxpayers' money," Lillis said. "While we do not want to deter anyone from applying for federal assistance, we will enforce the law to protect honest citizens and keep disaster funds out of the hands of those who would commit criminal acts."
FEMA's OIG is responsible for investigating agency programs and operations, including fraudulent applications for Presidentially declared disaster assistance. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes cases that result in criminal charges.
Theft of government property or claiming false hurricane losses are felony charges and carry a maximum 5 to 10 year prison term and/or up to $250,000 in fines. In all federal disaster operations, FEMA's (OIG) conducts audits and investigates possible fraudulent activities. The OIG operates the FEMA Fraud Hotline and organizes multi-jurisdictional disaster fraud task forces that include special agents from the OIG at FEMA and the Small Business Administration, the FBI and the Army Criminal Investigations Division, among others.
In disasters where there are significant amounts of debris, FEMA assigns debris coordinators and debris specialists to monitor all aspects of debris field operations - including contractors. FEMA inspectors monitor activity at debris pick-up sites and dumpsites.
Lillis said that anyone who is aware of criminal activity regarding FEMA disaster assistance can anonymously report the information directly to the OIG by calling the toll-free Hotline at 1-800-323-8603. The Hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week