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Justice Dept. won't check FEMA charges
Rep. Jo Ann Davis will not be getting help from the federal agency in looking into alleged fraud.


Published March 10, 2005

The U.S. Justice Department rejected Wednesday a request by Rep. Jo Ann Davis that it investigate accusations of fraud within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, triggering angry responses from Hurricane Isabel victims.

Davis, R-Gloucester, said more than 100 Virginia families were still living in trailers after their homes were damaged by Isabel in September 2003. She thinks that many of them have not been compensated fairly through the National Flood Insurance Program, which FEMA oversees.

Davis and several activists and homeowners have alleged that conflicts of interest within FEMA prevented homeowners from getting fair settlements. FEMA critics said Wednesday that government agencies like the Justice Department seemed unwilling to investigate wrongdoing.

"This is the mother of all cover-ups," said Fred Gentry, a former North Carolina resident who lost his home to Isabel flooding.

Gentry said he met with Davis to complain about his insurance settlement from the national flood program.

"Who is going to take responsibility?" he asked.

In her Nov. 29 request to the Justice Department, Davis said congressional testimony revealed that an insurance industry lawyer representing big insurers in the flood insurance program also trained FEMA's flood claim adjusters.

FEMA oversees a national pot of money that comes from flood insurance premiums paid by homeowners who have policies through private companies.

The companies get to keep a percentage of the flood insurance premiums.

In a letter dated Feb. 28 - which Davis' office received by fax Wednesday - Assistant Attorney General William E Moschella wrote that his office didn't investigate allegations of crimes, it prosecuted cases.

"If any person believes he or she has credible evidence of violations of federal law, they should contact the local branch office of the FBI for information or assistance," he wrote.

Moschella also wrote that legal and ethical considerations prevented his office from confirming or denying the existence of "particular matters or investigations."

He made a vague reference to cases prosecuted by U.S. attorneys' offices recently - cases involving "fraud or bribery by FEMA employees or contract employees, including cases in Texas and Virginia."

He didn't provide any details about the cases, though he noted that they were a matter of public record.

Davis said her staff was unaware of any prosecutions against FEMA involving Isabel victims in Virginia.

"I guess we'll have to go looking for them," Davis said.

"We're going to make some phone calls and do some digging and find out if it is, in fact, true."

She said she still planned to seek a congressional hearing on FEMA's handling of flood claims after Isabel.

That could happen between April and October, she said.

Davis isn't alone in calling for an expanded probe of FEMA. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., also has petitioned the Justice Department.

Three members of Congress from Maryland - Republican Rep. Melissa Hart and Democratic Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski - want investigations by the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Steve Kanstoroom, a Maryland-based activist, said the Justice Department's lack of help wouldn't prevent FEMA's transgressions from becoming public.

"It speaks volumes that it took the (Justice Department) 90 days to tell a member of Congress, 'It's not our job,' " said Kanstoroom, who manages an Internet site, femainfo.us, that lists FEMA complaints.

"It's inevitable that the public will learn what's happened here and the depth and magnitude of the wrongdoing."

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