In Case You Missed It

Louisiana Officials Indicted Before Katrina Hit – Los Angeles Times

Federal audits found dubious expenditures by the state’s emergency preparedness agency, which will administer FEMA hurricane aid.
By Ken Silverstein and Josh Meyer
Times Staff Writers

September 17, 2005

WASHINGTON — Senior officials in Louisiana’s emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.

And federal auditors are still trying to track as much as $60 million in unaccounted for funds that were funneled to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency dating back to 1998.

In March, FEMA demanded that Louisiana repay $30.4 million to the federal government.

The problems are particularly worrisome, federal officials said, because they involve the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the agency that will administer much of the billions in federal aid anticipated for victims of Katrina.

Earlier this week, federal Homeland Security officials announced they would send 30 investigators and auditors to the Gulf Coast to ensure relief funds were properly spent.

Details of the ongoing criminal investigations come from two reports by the inspector general’s office in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, as well as in state audits, and interviews this week with federal and state officials.

The reports were prepared by the federal agency’s field office in Denton, Texas, and cover 1998 to 2003. Improper expenditures previously identified by auditors include a parka, a briefcase and a trip to Germany.

Much of the FEMA money that was unaccounted for was sent to Louisiana under the Hazard Mitigation Grant program, intended to help states retrofit property and improve flood control facilities, for example.

The $30.4 million FEMA is demanding back was money paid into that program and others, including a program to buy out flood-prone homeowners. As much as $30 million in additional unaccounted for spending also is under review in audits that have not yet been released, according to a FEMA official.

One 2003 federal investigation of allegedly misspent funds in Ouachita Parish, a district in northern Louisiana, grew into a probe that sprawled into more than 20 other parishes.

Read the rest in the link above.

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