Hurricane Sandy brought unprecedented flooding to the East Coast. Now, the relief effort is bringing another record flood — of money. And some of that money, inevitably, will end up diverted from its intended purpose.
As the rebuilding progresses, authorities are stepping up their efforts to make sure that the Sandy relief effort stays honest. In February, Monmouth County (NJ) prosecutors created a task force to fight fraudulent contracting, reported NJ.com ("Monmouth County launches task force to battle Sandy fraud," by Ashley Peskoe). Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said, "By forming this task force, the goal is to give consumers and homeowners that are affected a single integrated agency to deal with rather than having to call a half-dozen different governmental agencies. Deal with us. We'll deal with all the communications from thereon out."
In March, the state of New Jersey kicked off its own anti-fraud effort, CBS New York reported ("New Jersey AG Establishes Sandy Fraud Working Group"), with its own website (StopSandyFraud.org) and a special toll-free phone number (855-726-3939). "The AG's office has already prosecuted dozens of Sandy-related fraud cases, including gas price gouging, unregistered contractors and bogus charities set up in the aftermath of the storm," CBS reported.
And the Feds have gotten into the game, too, reported NorthJersey.com — targeting not just contractors, but homeowners, according to a report in the North Jersey Record ("FBI is watching Sandy aid in N.J. for fraud," by Shawn Boburg). "It's not just corrupt politicians, phony charities and multimillion-dollar public contracts they're looking at — it's homeowners who try to cheat insurance companies or federal aid programs out of as little as a few thousand dollars, a top FBI official said in an interview with The Record. That's a shift for an agency whose typical fraud case involves at least $100,000." Like the state of New Jersey, the FBI has a hot line (866-720-5721), and also provided an email address for reporting fraud (firstname.lastname@example.org).
But what if it's the government itself that's misusing the money? That's the problem at the heart of legislation passed by the New Jersey Assembly on March 21, reports the Star-Ledger ("Bill creating integrity monitors for Hurricane Sandy funds heads to Christie," by Brent Johnson). But it's unclear whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will sign the measure, the paper reports: "The state Assembly today gave final approval to a bill establishing integrity monitors to oversee how New Jersey spends billions of dollars in federal Hurricane Sandy aid and sent the proposal to the governor, where it faces an uncertain fate."
The measure passed by a unanimous 74-0 vote in the Assembly chamber, where Assembly Speaker, Sheila Oliver, said, "Large-scale projects, particularly rebuilding projects caused by natural disasters are vulnerable to abuse. The influx of taxpayer money coming our way demands additional supervision of how these funds are being used."