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Extent of Hurricane Katrina Fraud Unknown

In case you hadn't noticed, tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary since Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. See this story today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and this CBS News video.

Getting far less coverage, however, is a story posted today at the Washington Examiner by Sarah Westwood reporting the extent of Katrina fraud is unknown. She writes:

"A decade after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast with historic ferocity, the federal government still doesn't know how many taxpayer dollars were lost to waste and fraud in the aftermath of the storm.

"Botched contracts, rampant fraud and mismanaged projects squandered millions of dollars meant to help the victims of Katrina. Politicians and business owners who skimmed off the top of the government's relief effort were later jailed, with some remaining behind bars to this day.

"Hurricane Katrina "produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history," the New York Times wrote of the disaster in 2006, just months after the storm.

"When former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced last summer to 10 years in prison for corruption and bribery — some of which occurred during the hurricane response — he became the 17th local politician sentenced since the storm, according to the New Orleans Advocate."

"A Disaster Fraud Task Force initially established to crack down on Katrina-related fraud had charged 1,439 people by 2011 for crimes committed in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

"While some set up elaborate schemes to take advantage of the money pouring into the region in late 2005, others simply gamed the poorly-planned systems put in place by entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The federal government ... received widespread criticism for a slow and ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina," began a 2006 inspector general report about FEMA's handling of the disaster. "Much of the criticism is warranted."

"On Sept. 8, 2005, FEMA began handing out active debit cards, each loaded with $2,000, to supposed victims of the storm at stadiums in Dallas and Houston and an air force base in San Antonio.

"Despite an initial plan to ensure applicants were eligible to receive the assistance before distributing the debit cards, the director of FEMA decided to hand out active cards instead."

Westwood concludes her reporting by saying:

"Members of Congress claimed some companies had submitted duplicate bills for debris removal to the government in order to pocket the extra funds.

"As late as 2014, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, which oversees FEMA, was still recommending the disaster agency attempt to recover portions of grants and other relief funding it had doled out improperly or that had since been mismanaged."

CNN * Politics reported today that a poll showed that "most say the nation is no better prepared." More precisely, CNN wrote:

"Ten years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, nearly half of Americans still think the country has not learned lessons from the tragedy and is not much better prepared for future natural disasters, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

"The survey, released Friday, shows 51% of Americans said the U.S. is just as vulnerable as it was to Katrina-like emergencies as it was in August 2005. That's up from 48% saying so one year after the storm in a survey by CNN/USA Today/Gallup."

Well, at least it's Friday, and the federal government has been closed for at least six hours.

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