More than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, cheaters across the nation are trying to cash in on the catastrophe with a boldness that surprises longtime law enforcement officials, the New York Times reports. “It is just amazing to me the moral values that seem to exist,” said McGregor W. Scott, the United States attorney in Fresno, Ca., where nine residents have been charged with defrauding the American Red Cross in a case involving false claims submitted to a Red Cross call center in Bakersfield, Ca.
The first scams involved fraudulent fund-raising, including fake Internet charities like AirKatrina.com, run by a Florida man who claimed to be piloting flights to Louisiana to provide emergency medical supplies. In Bakersfield, Red Cross staff members hired through a contractor created fake hurricane victims and issued checks on their behalf that the workers cashed or passed to friends or relatives, investigators say. The Justice Department has filed cases against 15 individuals. Local officials in Houston and other cities have filed at least 50 cases. Hundreds of other cases are being reviewed, including more than 300 involving the Red Cross. The number represents a tiny share of the more than 2.2 million households that have applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross.