Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Sessions, Landrieu Anti-Fraud Bill
WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee last week unanimously passed a bill, S. 863, cosponsored by United States Senators Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would make it a crime to fraudulently obtain emergency disaster funds.
"There is no excuse for taking advantage of a disaster situation," Sen. Landrieu said. "Those who choose to commit fraud deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, many hurricane victims are waiting on their rightful funds to rebuild and recover. This bill helps to ensure that disaster assistance is given to the victims who need it."
Sens. Landrieu and Sessions originally introduced the legislation last year following disclosures by the Government Accountability Office that $1 billion, or 16 percent, in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disaster relief were fraudulent payments made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The legislation passed the House of Representatives last year but failed to clear the Senate. Also co-sponsoring the bill are Sens. David Vitter, R-La., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and John Cornyn, R-Texas.
"After an emergency or disaster like the recent tornadoes that devastated the City of Enterprise, we should do everything we can to make sure 100 percent of federal relief funds get into the hands of real victims," Sen. Sessions said when he introduced the bill. "As a former federal prosecutor, I've been there in the aftermath of disasters and I've seen such fraud and abuse first hand. Our resources are not unlimited, and it's critical that we ensure that every relief dollar goes to legitimate storm victims. It's important that we give prosecutors the tools they need to protect these victims as well as the American taxpayer."
In addition to the creation of a new federal crime related to emergency and disaster relief fraud, the bill would increase criminal penalties for engaging in mail or wire fraud following a major disaster or emergency. The legislation would provide for up to 30 years in prison upon conviction, which is consistent with the maximum penalty for financial institutions involved in similar crimes.