Red Cross: FBI Conducts Own Katrina Probe

4-1-06 - The FBI is looking into allegations of theft and other wrongdoing by American Red Cross volunteers who distributed relief supplies after Hurricane Katrina.

A task force probe, which includes state, local and federal authorities began after the Red Cross conducted its own investigation and turned over information to authorities, said Jim Bernazzani, the agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office. Bernazzani and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten in New Orleans confirmed the FBI's involvement in the investigation Friday. "It's important to note that we have no preconceived notion of criminal wrongdoing," Bernazzani said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said volunteers may have committed criminal fraud. The accusations include improperly diverting relief supplies and violating Red Cross rules by using felons as volunteers in the disaster area. State Attorney General Charles Foti earlier announced the state was conducting its own probe.

"The Red Cross takes these allegations very seriously and is committed to being the best stewards of the donated dollar," charity President and CEO Jack McGuire said in a statement released Thursday in Washington. The Red Cross had 235,000 volunteers working in the Katrina disaster area, nearly six times the previous peak of 40,000.

The charity said last week that a catastrophe as large as Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and killed more than 1,300 people in Louisiana and Mississippi, leads to "departures from standard procedures" but said it would not tolerate illegal activity.

In Illinois, meanwhile, a 30-year-old woman was sentenced to four years in prison for posing as a Katrina victim and receiving Red Cross relief money. A Macon County judge sentenced Ockisha Turner on Thursday and ordered her to pay $1,565 in restitution after she pleaded guilty to burglary of the charity's Mid-Illinois chapter.