Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

La Fraud Watch Heats Up Hundreds of Investigators Track Housing, Food Costs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

La Fraud Watch Heats Up Hundreds of Investigators Track Housing, Food Costs

Article excerpt

Hundreds of federal investigators have been sent to Los Angeles to keep people from defrauding agencies that are helping earthquake victims, officials said Sunday.

The only serious problems so far have been in an emergency food stamp program. Five people were arrested Saturday for trying to buy food stamps from recipients at a discount.

Food stamp distribution was suspended Sunday while officials worked to implement a new three-day waiting system. The program was supposed to resume today.

The five people arrested for food stamp fraud, whose names were not released, were expected to be arraigned today in federal court. Authorities had previously said 10 people were arrested.

The Department of Agriculture will seek a felony charge of possession for unlawful sale of more than $100 in food stamps, said Dave Dickson, a department inspector general. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Federal investigators also have been posted at all 18 relief centers to watch for racial discrimination in emergency housing, said Joe Shuldiner of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD investigators also will ensure that landlords don't raise rents as they did in Florida after Hurricane Andrew.

"We have not seen that done in L.A. to date, but I want to assure you that we are watching carefully," he said.

About 800 federal and state inspectors are in the field, and a new toll-free number for reporting fraud was set up.

In Northridge, the Red Cross opened a "super center," issuing vouchers for everything from food to rent. The center, housed in a giant white tent in the parking lot of the heavily damaged Northridge Fashion Center, has 70 caseworkers and expects to have 120 volunteers by midweek.

To fight fraud, the Red Cross cross-checked victim's addresses against a map of the damage zone and often sent inspectors to visit property. …

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