DoJ Grounds Katrina Relief Web Site
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The Department of Justice (DoJ) indicted a Florida man late Monday afternoon for running an alleged Internet scam seeking to profit from Hurricane Katrina.
Gary S. Kraser of Aventura, Fla., is charged with four counts of wire fraud for soliciting charitable donations supposedly intended for the humanitarian relief of Hurricane Katrina victims.
According to the DoJ, Kraser falsely claimed that he was piloting flights to Louisiana to provide medical supplies to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and to evacuate children and others in critical medical condition.
Kraser further claimed that he had organized a group of Florida pilots to assist him in his supposed relief efforts. In all, the DoJ claims Kraser raised more than $40,000 through his Web site, AirKatrina.com.
"It is simply unconscionable and intolerable that anyone would seek a personal financial benefit from the horrible human tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina," R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.
The indictment claims Kraser, who is not a licensed pilot, made materially false statements in e-mail correspondence, Web postings and on his own site about the nature of his charitable solicitations.
The DoJ said Kraser falsely claimed he had been employed by the White House under four different presidents and had worked aboard Air Force One. He further claimed that those connections allowed him special clearance to organize pilots to bring in food and medical supplies.
"I am shaking as I write this, as I just arrived home, and just now allowed my body and mind to accept what I saw tonight," the DoJ claims Kraser posted to his site on Aug. 30.
"I saw people on their roofs, that had used axes more than likely to cut through the roof, waving at us, as they thought we were Air Rescue . . . I saw dogs wrapped in electrical lines still alive and sparks flying from their bodies being electrocuted, as well as some people dead already."
In another posting the DoJ claims is untrue, Kraser wrote on Aug. 31, "I'm flying full loads out, and offering the empty plane on the outbound for Air Ambulance. If we didn't have the plane, I don't think the little baby would have survived . . . She is undergoing transplant surgery at this moment I am writing."
Kraser also claimed he "tipped wings" with Air Force One while over Louisiana.
According to the DoJ, Kraser claimed that he personally paid for these fictitious relief flights, and that he approved the creation of AirKatrina.com to solicit donations supposedly to purchase the fuel for his alleged humanitarian aid missions.
Kraser wrote, "Every dollar, every nickel, [would] go directly into the tanks of these pilots planes on their mission of mercy."
In fact, the DoJ claims, the money went directly to Kraser's personal bank account.
"Catastrophes, for the most part, bring out the best in people. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina we have seen extraordinary acts of heroism and kindness," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Clemens stated.
"Unfortunately, catastrophes also bring out the worst in some people. The public should be assured that the FBI will not tolerate individuals who fraudulently take advantage of these types of disasters and will investigate thoroughly any alleged criminal activity."
U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales created the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force shortly after the storm hit to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft and insurance fraud.
Acosta added, "The dreams, homes, and lives of thousands of families have been destroyed. Our goal with this prosecution, and with the creation of the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, is to help restore the hope and faith of the victims of Katrina in their fellow Americans' willingness to help.