State and Federal Officials Team up for ‘Zero Tolerance’ Program in La.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr., joined federal and state officials recently to introduce the United States Department of Justice “Zero Tolerance” program regarding the state’s The Road Home program.

The “Zero Tolerance” program is a collaborative effort among federal and state officials that allows citizens to report fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement of funds regarding the Road Home program. The Road Home program is the largest single housing recovery program in the history of the United States. Applications for the program are currently being received, but regrettably there are those who may seek to defraud the hurricane-ravaged victims of Louisiana who are trying to rebuild or repair their homes. Examples of dishonest practices include unscrupulous contractors defrauding homeowners or dishonest homeowners filing false claims for assistance.

To report suspected abuse of the Road Home Program contact the following:

• Louisiana Attorney General’s Office
1-800-351-4889
Handle complaints regarding dishonest contractors and other frauds against homeowners.

• Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force
1-866-720-5721
Handle complaints such as fraudulent applications and public corruption.

“I am proud to be a part of this collaborative effort to protect the citizens of Louisiana,” Attorney General Foti stated. “I will not tolerate the abuse, fraud or theft of Road Home funds. I encourage anyone who suspects fraud in the program to report it to my office or the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force. Together, we can ensure that the Road Home to recovery is a safe one for our families, neighbors and friends.”

In September 2005, U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales created the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, designed to deter, investigate, and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft, procurement fraud and insurance fraud. The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force – chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division – includes the FBI, the U. S. Inspectors General community, the U. S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and others.

Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco stated, “We have survived two devastating storms and I will not allow our citizens to fall victim to fraud or abuse as we rebuild Louisiana. I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice and our state Attorney General have joined me in protecting our citizen’s claims for housing assistance.”

Virgil Robinson, LRA Board Member and Audit Committee Chair agreed. “This sends a clear signal to the people of Louisiana that we will do whatever it takes to protect their Road Home grants. Our job is to make sure every penny is spent wisely, accounted for honestly and delivered to those that need it most – we cannot afford to do anything less.”

As people begin to rebuild and repair their homes, they should keep the following in mind when hiring a contractor: (1) Hire only Louisiana state licensed or registered contractors; (2) Verify the contractor license or registration number at 1-800-256-1392 or www.lslbc.louisiana.gov; (3) Get at least three local area references and review contractor experience; (4) Get at least three bids on the work to be performed; (5) Get a written contract and don’t sign anything until you understand the terms of your contract clearly; (6) Don’t apply for a building permit on behalf of the contractor. This is a crime and both the homeowner and contractor may be arrested; (7) Pay 10 percent down, or $1,000.00, whichever is less, depending on the project size and reasonable starting cost requirements; (8) Don’t let payments get ahead of work completed and don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied with the job; (9) Never pay cash; and (10) Keep a file of all papers relating to your construction project.

The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is the lead agency of the Louisiana Recovery Authority’s Fraud Prevention and Investigations Task Force that is charged with preventing the fraudulent use of recovery funds as well as investigating and prosecuting those individuals or corporations who defraud the Road Home Program. Other task force members include the U.S. Attorney’s offices for the Eastern, Middle and Western Districts of Louisiana; LRA Audit Subcommittee; State Inspector General’s Office; U.S. Department of HUD, Office of Inspector General; Louisiana Division of Administration, Office of Community Development; Office of the Legislative Auditor; and the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors.

Source: Louisiana Attorney General’s Office