In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, millions of Americans have responded to this disaster with the kind of generous spirit that has become the hallmark of our great Nation.
Families, friends, and neighbors – from near and far – have opened their hearts and homes to evacuees. Truckloads of water and other supplies have arrived in the affected areas from every corner of the country. And individuals and corporations have donated to charities in record amounts, to aid the hands-on relief efforts throughout the Gulf Coast.
Amidst these countless acts of kindness, however, a devious few have sought to take advantage of our collective generosity. For instance, reports have indicated that some criminals have attempted to profit from this disaster by posting fraudulent Internet sites to lure well-intentioned donations from unsuspecting citizens.
There is no place for crimes of this nature in our compassionate society. We have a responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the relief efforts that provide generous support to victims who desperately need help.
We have previously announced the formation of the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force to help deter, investigate, and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud and insurance fraud.
I am here today to emphasize that the work of this task force is a top priority for the Department. Chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, the Task Force is coordinating law enforcement efforts across the federal government – and with our state and local partners – to effectively combat fraud cases relating to Hurricane Katrina.
To anyone who is contemplating any kind of fraudulent scheme that takes advantage of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, let me be very clear. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are watching carefully, and we will have zero tolerance for these kinds of crimes. If you engage in fraudulent behavior, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We must ensure that those offering a helping hand do not become victims themselves. And that those found preying on the compassion of our citizens are punished.
Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher will now further discuss these efforts and then we are happy to take questions.