Red Cross Swindlers have struck the Mid-South. Memphis Police have a stack of suspects charged with Hurricane Katrina fraud.
A few fraud cases trickled in right after the hurricane, but the American Red Cross just turned in up to 20 names of people who may have taken advantage of community good will. "There may be some people that actually had travelled around the country from community to community," said American Red Cross Director Bill Hildebrant.
At the peak of Hurricane Katrina response, there was no way to confirm identities. But now, Red Cross workers are cross-checking applications. "Now that the data is in, those red flags are popping up and we're doing it on a national basis," Hildebrant explained.
The fraud came in the form of Katrina refund checks. The money could be used for anything from food to clothing and incidentals. While the fraud cost more than $60,000, the Red Cross says it was a small percentage. "I think what we want the Mid-South to know is that we're not going to let it go. We will prosecute," said Hildebrant.
Police say there could be federal charges. "If the funds that Red Cross supplied to them were from federal relief agencies or if it's just from the Red Cross. We have to look at each case and determine who the victim is," said Sergeant Vince Higgins of the Memphis Police Department.
He adds that it is unknown if all the thieves were working together. "As we get into the meat of them, we'll probably determine if there is any linkage between the suspects in these cases," he said.
The Red Cross says they might find more thieves as they continue their checks and balances campaign.
This kind of fraud is a felony and could put suspects behind bars for up to 30 years.
The Red Cross wants to make sure the community has faith that their donations are falling into the right hands.
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