Suspected Katrina Aid Fraud Reported to Columbus Police
Six months ago, the Columbus Red Cross and chapters around the country were handing out cash to families displaced by Katrina. Not all of the recipients were legitimate victims. A 34-year-old Miami County, Ohio man has been sentenced to eight months in prison for falsely claiming Red Cross help. David Zimmerman was also ordered to repay more than $2,000 to the North Miami Valley chapter.
The Columbus chapter says it has given out a half million dollars in direct financial aid to Katrina victims. But the chapter's Lynn Householder doesn't believe fraud was widespread.
"There may have been a few instances but nothing out of the ordinary for the Red Cross, and when we do find out about a case like that we do refer those over to the local authorities to deal with," Householder says.
Householder says 11 cases of suspected fraud have been turned over to the Columbus police department. That's a small percentage of the 739 families that received local Red Cross assistance after Katrina. Both the local chapter and the national organization say suspected fraud is taken seriously and is immediately referred to authorities.
"There's always going to be fraud. It's a part of our everyday life," says national spokesman Kevin Titus, who says the American Red Cross recently expanded its fraud unit to deal with the increased number of investigations. But he says the bizarre circumstances that follow a national disaster don't always mean that fraud has been committed.
"People are dispersed in all 50 states and just because someone applied for aid in Fairbanks, Alaska does not necessarily make them a fraud case," Titus says.
The American Red Cross says it's cooperated with authorities in some 260 cases of alleged fraud. It's working with the Justice Department's Katrina Fraud Task Force.