Publishing the Faces of Fraud

It makes you a little queasy, maybe more than a little queasy, to read about the fraud going on in New Jersey right now.

One of the most recent reports indicated that “Eight people were charged on Tuesday with lying to obtain more than $313,000 in super storm Sandy aid they were ineligible to receive.”

Apparently, there was a little money to be made from taking advantage of relief funds for Hurricane Sandy. I don’t really know what to say about this.

The amounts involved are relatively low, all things considered. One person is accused of obtaining $93,000 in insurance funds, while another person managed to get $5,000 for lying about having insurance on a Volvo. The acting New Jersey Attorney General, when he announced the charges against 8 people, made it seem pretty pathetic:

    “These individuals are alleged to have callously stolen Sandy relief funds, diverting aid from deserving recipients and forcing administrators to police this fraud instead of working exclusively to assist those hardest hit by the storm. At a time when so many stepped up to help others, these defendants are alleged to have crookedly helped themselves.”

Here’s the interesting part—these people not only got charged, but they also got their names and faces publicized.

OK, I get it. Hurricane Sandy was terrible and most people did right by their neighbors. Those who stole from the relief funds don’t deserve much sympathy, and of course, examples have to be made in case the next hurricane hits and everybody runs for the money.

By contrast, several op-eds by serious False Claims Act attorneys such as Eric Havian have taken to advocating criminal charges be filed when individuals who run major corporations are involved in ripping off the United States. (I don’t know Mr. Havian.)

However, this never actually happens. Or at least almost never.

Have you seen any mug shots of the heads of any major bankers lately? How many CEOs have faced indictments when they pay billions of dollars without having to admit fault? They pay the money and of course money is what the False Claims Act is about so, I guess I don’t have a problem with that. I just can’t make sense of treating a $5K insurance scam as if it is somehow worse.

BP allows millions of gallons of oil get into the ocean through its own negligence, and runs around buying ads complaining about how it got ripped off.

It is shameful to steal hurricane relief funds. One crime does not excuse another. It is offensive to think of the people who legitimately needed relief funds and the people who will now be against providing relief funds when natural disasters occur because they think 8 people speak for all of New Jersey when they act to steal such funds.

Still, some perspective may be necessary. The next time a big company gets hit with a multi-million or even billion dollar law suit and claims no admission of wrongdoing, the news could at least publish a picture of the CEO or spokesman. There shouldn’t be a $5,000 ceiling for having your mug shot in the paper and on the evening news. Those billionaire rip-off artists should get noticed and be held accountable too. Instead, they get to run around claiming that whistleblowers are greedy.

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