While catching up on some hurricane news for the Gulf Coast region from June, we came across this story about relief fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
A federal grand jury in Atlanta has accused four people of fraudulently obtaining tens of thousands of dollars in government assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that 37-year-old Kristine Clark and 24-year-old Michael Rouzan, both of Decatur, Ga., were charged in one indictment, and 26-year-old Markisha Burks of Dallas and 43-year-old Lucien Danthon of Atlanta were named in separate indictments accusing them of falsely claiming they resided in New Orleans at the time of the 2005 storm.
Charges include wire fraud, mail fraud and theft of government funds.
Prosecutors say Clark and Rouzan obtained $32,000 for housing assistance and purported property damage, and a trailer in Hammond, La., where they lived from May 2006 to March 2008.
It’s extremely frustrating to hear of how people took advantage of the tragedy suffered by the city of New Orleans but even moreso to see how their claims may justify stricter action by the government that can injure those with real needs after the next tragedy. Punishment for such fraud should be handled swiftly and aggressively to send a message so that if such an event occurs, anywhere in the country, opportunists avoid taking assistance from the people who truly need it. In the event there is any debate over eligibility for such assistance, contact an attorney or government official immediately before assuming and opening yourself up for jail time and fines.