No excuse for fraud

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2007

It’s been more than 18 months since Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Those areas continue to struggle to rebuild. In parts of New Orleans, as well as Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss., only about half of the residents have returned.

The fact that the need is so great makes an act of fraud even more outrageous.

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Yet, according to a story released this week by the Associated Press, authorities continue to investigate cases involving thousands of people who bilked the federal government and charities out of hundreds of millions of dollars intended to aid storm victims.

So far, more than 600 people have been charged in federal cases in 22 states &045; from Florida to Oregon &045; and the District of Columbia.

The frauds range in value from a few thousand dollars to more than $700,000.

And even more unbelievable, even employees of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are among those who have been accused.

In Alabama, Lawanda Williams was sentenced to 75 months in prison for using false Social Security numbers and different names to claim losses in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.

Her Alabama home was not damaged. Authorities say she collected $277,377 and will have to pay restitution and forfeit items she bought including real estate, a mobile home, three cars and a 50-inch TV.

There is no excuse for those who would take advantage of a natural disaster. Authorities should continue to investigate, arrest and prosecute those responsible.