February 14, 2006 -- WASHINGTON — Sex toys, Swedish massages, tattoos, jewelry — that's what was purchased with Katrina emergency relief aid, according to shocking audits released yesterday.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials wasted millions in taxpayer dollars and even put up Hurricane Katrina evacuees in luxury hotels — including a New York hotel that billed the feds $428 per night, federal investigators revealed.
The probers also found widespread abuse of $2,000 debit cards that FEMA provided to evacuees.
Disaster victims were supposed to use the vouchers for emergency expenses, but many racked up expenses as if they were at a bachelor party.
One evacuee spent $400 on a Swedish massage in Irving, Texas, and one paid $150 for "adult erotica products" at a store called Condoms To Go.
Another spent $450 to get an arm tattoo; and another spent $1,300 on a .45-caliber pistol.
Someone used the money to pay off a bail bondsman, one paid $1,100 for a diamond engagement ring, and yet another made several bank withdrawals at a casino.
The disclosure of waste and fraud amid government mismanagement are contained in searing Senate testimony given by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General Richard Skinner, and in a new report by the General Accounting Office, a government watchdog.
Skinner told senators that a government contractor spent $150,000 paying for 773 rooms at an average of $191 per night to house evacuees who fled massive flooding and storm damage in Katrina's wake.
In addition to paying full fare at the New York City hotel, which he did not name, Skinner said FEMA picked up the tab for a $375-per-night beachfront condo in Panama City, Fla., and a downtown Chicago hotel that cost $399 per night.
Skinner said investigators found examples of hotels that charged "excessive" rates above their usual prices, and said the feds would keep investigating the matter.
Corporate Lodging Consultants, who got the government contract, has handled hotel billings worth $350 million. But company executives refused to return calls from The Post about why the government was paying rates fetched by some of Manhattan's finest hotels to house hurricane victims.
"Yes, there were people that got one over on us," said Butch Kinerney, a FEMA spokesman.
The Justice Department said federal prosecutors have filed charges against 212 people for hurricane relief scams.
A forthcoming report by an investigative committee in Congress faults the Homeland Security Department for a "failure of initiative" in its response.
A federal judge ruled yesterday FEMA could stop paying hotel assistance for 12,000 families.
"Obviously, nobody expected them to be here for five months," said Tony Pinto, manager of the Radisson Hotel at JFK Airport, which has been housing a group of evacuees.
He said the hotel would serve eviction notices in the next few days, and said hopefully a nonprofit group would step in.
1) While the majority of Katrina's victims were Black, it's not like the hurricane took a left a white people's residencies and leap frogged over the Asian and Latino communities in the Gulf Coast.
2) One must question why the editors at the New York Post decided that the pictures that accompany this article ought to be a black man with a young girl and a Black woman. White, Asian, and Latino people also received relief money. Nothing in the story indicates that the identities of those who took misused the money were available to the media, yet the editors at the New York Post have no problem assuming it was Black people. Notice also that none of the white hotel owners or CEOs are pictured. This harkens back to the racist, stereotypical caricature of the Black welfare queen. Shame on the New York Post for criminalizing Katrina's Black victims.
There are probably people who don't think this is a big deal. Racist stereotypes, beliefs, and behaviors, as with Rome, weren't built in a day. Not everything is as blatant as burning crosses and graffiti swastikas. Subtle propaganda such as the Post article has a wider audience and plants images of Black moral inferiority in the subconsciousness. So the next time you, or somebody else ponders why Americans fear and hate Black people so much, here is part of the answer- because of bullshit like this.
To contact the post, go to www.nypost.com