Thursday, April 21, 2011
The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina has been one of the most unforgettable suffering that the United States has experienced. Not only has it cost lives of many but it was one of the costliest disasters to ever hit the US with an estimated 81 billion in damages to homes and personal property. After this hurricane of 2005, a number of victims are still not back on their feet. This event has brought together the whole nation in extending help and relief operations to those who were heavily affected by the hurricane. However, what is worst is the fact that some people used this sad event for their personal gain. Since the hurricane, a number of scandals and issues involving misuse of funds from all levels have emerged. There is a long list of cases with companies and individuals as culprits in the fraudulent use of money supposed to aid Katrina victims.Because of the growing number of fraud cases, the national Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force has beed designed in September of 2005. It was Attotney General Alberto R. Gonzales who formed this task force that was aimed to investigate and prosecute crimes that are related to the Hurricane Katrina disasters. Some of these crimes include frauds involving charities, individuals who misrepresent others, fraud in procuring relief funds, and frauds in insurance claims. The Katrina Fraud Task Force - chaired by Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Lanny A. Breuer, includes members from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the Postal Inspector’s Office and the Executive Office of United States Attorneys, among others (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009).
One such case features a woman who was prosecuted because of submitting a false claim to the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) in order to get disaster assistance funds. The woman pled guilty to the case and was sentenced to serve 4 months of home confinement with electronic monitoring. She was also under supervised release for 3 years with 70 hours of community service and would pay restitution of $20,830.99 to FEMA and $1,565.00 to Red Cross (FBI, 2009).
Another male individual was convicted of defrauding the government by also filing claims to get disaster assistance money from FEMA. The person filed a claim and was found guilty since at the time of the hurricane, he was residing in Buffalo, New York and was far away from the focal point of the disaster. He claimed for assistance when he did not actually sustain damages to his property. He was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment following 3 years of supervised release including paying back $16, 693.15 to FEMA (Department of Justice, 2009).
These are only a few that are among the numerous people who used the hurricane as a reason to be able to commit fraud. Taking into consideration the fact that some of them may also be victims, it is still not a justification to get more for one's self when there are others who may still have greater need and use for the money. These are considered crimes because of the false presentations that the offenders did. It is a crime against their fellow as well as a crime to the state. This implies that because of the impact of this kind of natural disasters, the society will go beyond what is proper in order to relieve the physical and emotional pain of the experience. With the two cases above, the sentence and punishment that were awarded to the crime offenders are fair and well-deserved. This would be a precursor to others who are planning to commit fraud. They will have to think twice with the knowledge that the justice system does not overlook crimes such as this.
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Individuals were forced to commit various frauds or engaged in the misuse of government funds because of the great need to alleviate their condition. Individuals are capable of such acts, what more a group of individuals who may conspire to do such acts? There are a number of charity fraud cases that emerged during the Katrina unrest. A number of these charities were scams that only aimed to ask donations but these donations were not forwarded to victims of the hurricane. These charities used the internet as an engine to proliferate and the FBI said that according to their investigation, 60% of the charities who posed as Katrina advocates on the internet are bogus. In addition, not only are individuals and charity groups guilty of committing fraud but those who are in power used their influence to access disaster relief money (Scambusters, 2010). Mississippi mayor Gregory Brent Warr and Laura Jean Warr were arrested for conspiracy, insurance and home grant fraud, FEMA fraud and Department of Housing and Urban Development fraud. They were indicted for 16 counts of fraud cases against the United States. They filed false claims, provided false statements to FEMA, stole government funds, committing mail and wire fraud as well as obtaining funds from the Lexington Insurance Company (Spero News, 2009). The mayor and his wife are facing up to 210 years in prison as well as a sum of 4 million in fines payable. Considering the faith that was given to him by the peope in his jurisdiction when he was elected mayor, it is just and fair that he was given the sentence. A mayor is more like the father of the whole area that he is handling and it is ufortunate that he would be the one to commit such frauds. It is a crimininal act because he did not have the concern for the people and their best interests at heart in the first place because he chose to gain more for himself at the face of disaster. It goes to show that even the ones who promise that they are for the people are weak when faced by financial despair and would let their morals go out the window.
Hurricane Katrina has caused displacement and has terribly affected the United States economically. Hunger, homelessness and just plain individual desire for wealth are factors that may cause people to commit crimes. This incident proves to be a lesson for the United States Government to be prepared and be vigilant in handling such disasters in the future.
Department of Justice. (2010, January 19). Man Sentenced in Hurricane Katrina Fraud
Case. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/press/oigpr 011910
Retrieved May 20, 2010, from http://www2.fbi.gov/katrina.htm
Retrieved May 20, 2010, from http://www.speroforum.com/a/17897/Mississippi-mayor-