DoJ Grounds Katrina Relief Web Site


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.

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