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Old 09-09-2005, 08:11 AM  
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FEMA Employs Ex-Cons to Inspect Damage

This happened in South Florida, New Orleans should be a treasure trove for ex-cons looking for a quick score. Man, FEMA is FUBAR:

FEMA Outsources Fraud Inspections to Ex-Cons
Agency relied on them for honest reports

By Megan O'Matz
and Sally Kestin By Megan O'Matz and Sally Kestin Staff Writers
Posted April 24 2005
South Florida Sun Sentinel

Government inspectors entrusted to enter disaster victims' homes and verify damage claims include criminals with records for embezzlement, drug dealing and robbery, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation has found.

Federal officials have pointed to the inspectors as their primary defense against accusations of widespread fraud for their payout of more than $31 million in Hurricane Frances disaster aid in Miami-Dade -- a county spared hurricane-force winds.

During a January news conference, the Federal Emergency Management Agency insisted there was damage in Miami-Dade County.

"We know this for several reasons," said Dan Craig, FEMA's director of recovery programs. "Foremost among them is that FEMA's contract inspectors personally inspect and verify the claims. Our contract inspectors are our first line of accountability."

That first line of accountability, the newspaper found, includes:

James A. DeWan, 46, of Texas. Known by the nickname "Mad Dog," he has a rap sheet that includes marijuana possession, three drunken-driving convictions and four citations for public intoxication. DeWan referred questions about his background to his employer.

Bill J. Neal, 60, of North Carolina, who served more than six years in prison in three states for criminal sexual conduct, attempted embezzlement of public money, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and cocaine possession. After last year's hurricanes, he trained new inspectors in Florida. Neal told the newspaper he had an impeccable work record.

Niels S. May, 39, of Tampa, who pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana, cocaine and drug paraphernalia in 1996. During a search of his home, police found two rifles, a shotgun and a .357 Magnum, court records show. "I'm not going to discuss my criminal history, and it's not much of one, to anybody," May told the Sun-Sentinel.

Darin P. Brebes, 36, a longtime inspector. Twice convicted of drunken driving in California, Brebes is wanted in Florida for failing to appear on a 1999 DUI in Broward County. Brebes said he no longer drinks, adding that a DUI is nothing more than "a traffic violation."

The four are among thousands of independent contractors FEMA has relied on to evaluate damage in disaster areas and help determine whether applicants receive government aid.

It is not known how many in the whole work force might have criminal records because FEMA will not release the names of any of its inspectors or their supervisors, citing an "unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy." The Sun-Sentinel has filed a federal suit against FEMA and its umbrella agency, the Department of Homeland Security, seeking the identities of inspectors and aid recipients.

The newspaper found 30 inspectors or managers with criminal records out of 133 it was able to identify through confidential sources, news clips, FEMA applicants and the Internet. A case against another inspector, charged in Mississippi with the attempted rape of a Hurricane Ivan victim, is still pending. The count includes those with at least one misdemeanor offense, such as drunken driving, but excludes traffic citations or infractions.

Of the inspectors and supervisors identified as having records, 17 had criminal histories at the time they were hired. At least four lost their jobs for arrests after they were hired, including one scheduled for sentencing May 6 in California for child molestation, and two convicted of federal bribery charges for promising higher FEMA payments in exchange for money.

Seven inspectors have records for marijuana or cocaine possession, including one convicted in 2002 after being hired as an inspector in what the local sheriff described as one of the largest drug busts ever in his Louisiana county.

Another inspector is a house burglar who served three stints in prison in Ohio.

How it works

Almost all the inspectors worked for a subsidiary of Parsons Brinckerhoff of Virginia, which has a $150 million, five-year contract with FEMA to recruit, hire and dispatch inspectors to national disasters. Another Virginia company, PaRR Inspections, also has a FEMA contract under similar terms.

FEMA used inspectors' assessments of damage to homes and belongings last year to disburse more than $1 billion in aid to Floridians after the hurricanes. Parsons Brinckerhoff dispatched 2,000 inspectors after the storms, its "largest effort" ever, a company bulletin says.

Neither FEMA nor its inspection companies would say how many inspectors have criminal records.

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