Like many Los Angeles residents I didn’t think twice about making a sizeable donation to victims of Hurricane Katrina. So it came as a bit of a disappointment to learn that some victims were squandering their relief funds on luxuries. From the LA Times:
Sex-change operations, vacations to the Dominican Republic and wild nights at strip clubs were all bought on the government’s dime by both con artists and legitimate victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The surprise comes from this same editorial, entitled “A hurricane of fraud?”, which comes close to defending such sloth.
…try to keep that knee from jerking — although FEMA’s oversight was lacking, wasted money is an inevitable byproduct of providing rapid emergency assistance.
The money came from $2000 value debit cards given to select victims by FEMA that were “to be spent according to his or her judgment” without follow up accounting.
While this isn’t an issue of legality, there is a clear abuse of the public’s trust… on behalf of the public. I was even more suprised when I read a fellow Metroblogger in New Orleans defend these actions – because he also received the $2000 debit cards, and blew his wad:
You know what I spent my FEMA money on? A laptop, booze, eating out, music, seersucker suits, etc. Luxuries. Friends spent it on flying V guitars, drugs, etc. Note that I did not ask FEMA for $2,000, nor did I ask for the subsequent $2,300 in rental assistance. In fact, I was living rent free and still being paid by my employer the entire time, but they still put the cash directly into my bank account.
Chris Martel justifies this as human nature. The LA Times says only 16% of the cash was misused.
I say either way, I want my donation back… okay, I don’t really. But I certainly would have thought twice had I known where some of this money would have gone. Maybe, at the very least, I’d have given 16% less.
Just because Chris and other didn’t need the money, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have passed it off or used it for someone who did.