Catholic Church pays $1 million to settle fraudulent FEMA claims
The Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans handed over $1 million to the US government to settle allegations that it defrauded FEMA and violated misrepresentation law in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, revealed the US Department of Justice in A declaration Monday.
“The settlement resolves allegations that, from 2007 through 2013, the Archdiocese of New Orleans knowingly signed certifications for FEMA funding that contained false or fraudulent damage descriptions and repair estimates,” a said the DOJ.
“Among other things, the alleged false descriptions included alleged damage to a non-existent central air conditioning unit and misrepresented the square footage of a facility,” he said.
The Church was assisted in the project by Los Angeles architecture firm AECOM, which helped prepare repair estimates.
The Church is far from the only organization for which AECOM has prepared false estimates. The scheme was brought to the government’s attention by AECOM employee Robert Romero.
The group, which has been a FEMA contractor for nearly 25 years, allegedly defrauded the US government of more than $100 million.
“Beginning no later than 2008, AECOM employees, including defendant Randall Krause, repeatedly submitted false or misleading information to FEMA, fraudulently increasing the amount FEMA paid to more than $100 million. of dollars”, a complaint submitted to the United States District Court for the Eastern Region of Louisiana in May 2020 said.
“This included claims for damage to non-existent concrete building foundations and fictitious basements, systematic inflation of cost estimates for damaged items, inflation of the square footage of the building, and the submission of photographs fraudulent damage files uploaded to the internet,” he explained.
The Church itself allegedly defrauded FEMA of up to $46 million.
“The Archdiocese of New Orleans fraudulently received approximately $10 million in supplemental funding from FEMA for a school building (“St. Raphael School’s Cafeteria Building”) based on a fraudulently inflated repair estimate containing unnecessary and unjustifiable items, and a fraudulently low replacement estimate,” the complaint said.
This allowed the Church to receive funds for the complete replacement of the structure rather than just repairs. In addition, the Church also submitted fraudulently inflated claims for two assisted living facilities it ran, garnering an additional $36 million from FEMA.