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FEMA: NYC Attack Relief Program Rife With Fraud

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

NEW YORK  A $100 million federal program to reimburse New Yorkers for air conditioners, filters, vacuums and other air-purifying tools after the World Trade Center collapse is rife with fraud and misuse, government officials say.

As many as 90 percent of the more than 219,000 applications for reimbursement were filed by people not suffering from the effects of contaminated air, according to estimates from federal officials running the program.

They say fraud has taken several forms, from individuals who manipulated the program to score a free air conditioner to con artists who posed as federal employees to recruit applicants and generate sales of air-purifying items.

Investigators have discovered numerous cases where people purchased FEMA-covered items, submitted the receipts to get reimbursement checks and then returned the products to the store, pocketing the cash. Some receipts even appear to be forged, Gair said.

Home visits have turned up residents who applied for air conditioner reimbursements actually living in buildings with central air where the windows don't even open. Other times, they find that applicants who received checks for hundreds of dollars worth of reimbursed purchases cannot produce the items when investigators visit their homes. Meanwhile, home and electronics stores have reported to FEMA unusual numbers of people returning air conditioners, vacuums and air purifiers.

Local district attorneys say no applicants have been charged in relation to the FEMA reimbursement program in part because it may be difficult to prove that someone taking advantage of the system is breaking any laws.

The city's Department of Consumer Affairs also is investigating, but is concentrating on the wider-scale scams run by people who posed as FEMA employees to generate applications and then sell air quality products at inflated prices. If proven, that would be an illegal trade practice.


Submitted by: Werner Hetzner 

Source: Fox News,2933,79005,00.html




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