FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida members of Congress said Sunday they were appalled by revelations that some housing inspectors for the federal government’s disaster-aid program had criminal records.

“There is just simply no excuse for this,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s front line appears to be “corroded with undesirables.”

“It creates a serious structural deficiency and calls into question the integrity of the whole system,” Foley said.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Sunday that government inspectors who enter homes nationwide to verify damage claims have included criminals with records for embezzlement, drug dealing, robbery and other offenses.

Dozens of workers

Though FEMA will not disclose the identities of its inspection work force, the newspaper uncovered the names of 133 inspectors and managers and found 30 with felony or misdemeanor records. Seventeen had criminal histories at the time they were hired, and at least four lost their jobs for arrests after they were hired, including one convicted of child molestation.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is investigating FEMA, released a statement Sunday saying: ” … the concerns raised by the Sun-Sentinel are alarming.”

“The Committee has various concerns with the inspection process and is looking into them,” the statement said. The panel plans to conduct a hearing and take testimony on the program next month.

FEMA has pointed to the inspectors as its “first line of accountability” in ensuring that $31 million in payments to residents of Miami-Dade County were justified after Hurricane Frances.

The Labor Day weekend storm made landfall 100 miles to the north of the county, which sustained no hurricane-force winds. Fourteen county residents who received disaster aid have been indicted on fraud charges and three have pleaded guilty.

In addition to the Senate committee, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA’s umbrella agency, is investigating the payouts.

Inspectors are independent contractors who work for two private companies that have multi-million dollar agreements with the federal government to conduct disaster inspections.


FEMA released a statement last week saying it requires the companies to “conduct a complete background check” of the inspectors. Neither FEMA nor the companies would say what crimes disqualify a person from serving as a housing inspector.

The newspaper found individuals with records for cocaine and marijuana possession, shoplifting, forgery, criminal sexual conduct, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, drunken driving and other crimes. Two were convicted of bribery for crimes committed while serving as FEMA inspectors.

Foley said Sunday that the background checks appear to be insufficient.

“Obviously, whatever test they’re doing is not adequate,” he said.

Lale M. Mamaux, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., said residents of Florida should “be very concerned that they could probably have some kind of criminal coming to their house to assess the damage to their property.”

“It is just mind boggling that FEMA would stand behind these people and act like nothing’s wrong,” she said.

FEMA officials could not be reached for comment Sunday. Last week the agency declined to answer questions about the criminal records or say what action, if any, it would take.

Both Foley and Nelson repeated their calls for FEMA to release the names of all of its inspectors and aid recipients. The Sun-Sentinel is suing FEMA to force the release of the information, which the agency contends is confidential.

Nelson announced earlier this month that he will file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the newspaper’s lawsuit.

“This is all the more reason for the hearings and the lawsuit to open up the records to the full light of day,” Nelson said.

Said Foley: “I’ve always felt there has to be greater accountability, and the only way to get that is by publishing the names of the individuals who are doing the work of the federal government.”

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