U.S. ATTORNEY ALERTS PUBLIC ABOUT DISASTER RELIEF FRAUD PROGRAM
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s declaration of 10 East Tennessee counties as disaster areas eligible for federal relief funds, United States Attorney Bill Killian today urged East Tennessee residents and businesses to be aware of and report any suspected fraudulent activity related to tornado and storm relief operations. The 10 counties qualifying for federal assistance are Bledsoe, Bradley, Cocke, Greene, Hamilton, Johnson, McMinn, Monroe, Rhea, and Washington.
Members of the public can report fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations through the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721 or the Disaster Fraud e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Federal disaster relief funds are to be used to help persons who have suffered harm and loss. We will aggressively prosecute anyone who tries to victimize these individuals a second time or attempts to defraud our taxpayers,” said Mr. Killian. “Criminals who try to prey on those who have suffered losses and those that try to illegally profit from this tragedy should know that we will bring every available federal charge against them to address this conduct and to protect our citizens.”
There are a number of federal statutes that could be implicated by disaster relief fraud, Killian noted, including false claims against the government; theft of government property; credit card, bank, mail, and wire fraud; false statements, social security fraud, identity theft, and fraud against the American Red Cross. “We have several ways to address this conduct and the punishment for these crimes can be up to 20 years in prison, fines of over $250,000, and restitution for victims of stolen funds. We are working closely with our federal investigative partners including the FBI, United States Postal Service, and United States Secret Service to monitor and detect disaster relief fraud,” Killian added. “If you suspect fraud, we urge you to call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline. We also have this contact information on our public website, www.justice.gov/usao/tne.“
Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of flood victims. Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and similar methods. In anticipation of unprecedented fraud in connection with federal disaster relief following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, a Joint Command Center was established in Baton Rouge, La., to coordinate reports of fraud. The Command Center, now known as the National Center for Disaster Fraud, has since expanded its mission to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 20 federal agencies participate in the center, allowing it to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information. To date, the National Center for Disaster Fraud has received and screened more than 38,000 complaints and has referred more than 24,000 complaints of disaster fraud to law enforcement for investigation. If you believe you have been a victim of fraud from a person or an organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of tornado or storm victims, or if you know of others who are committing theft or fraud of federal taxpayer’s money, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud toll free at (866) 720-5721. You can also fax information to (225) 334-4707 or e-mail it to email@example.com.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud from a person or an organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of storm victims or have knowledge of waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud toll free at: (866) 720-5721. You can also fax information to: (225) 334-4707 or e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org