John Minchillo / AP
In the days after Superstorm Sandy drenched the East Coast, New York City Transportation Department employees cataloged the damage to the agency's vehicle fleet. This information was given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which gave the city enough money to replace the damaged vehicles with new ones.
Only one problem: many of these vehicles were damaged before Sandy was hit. Some had not been operational for years and were scheduled for recovery long before the storm.
The city has now agreed to reimburse the federal government $ 5.3 million for its false claims, according to the proposed settlement on Wednesday.
City officials, who confirmed that the vehicles were damaged during Sandy, either knew they were making false statements or did so "with reckless disregard or deliberate blindness to their truth," the US Attorney for the South said New York district, Geoffrey Berman, in a report complaint enclosed with the proposed scheme.
"If FEMA is lied for property damage for the cause of property damage, it will affect FEMA's ability to provide financial support to legitimate disaster victims in dire need," Berman said in a statement
Investigating the Fleet The city employees only "examined whether a vehicle had sustained any damage during the storm, regardless of the condition of the vehicle before the time o Sandy," the complaint said. As a result, "many of the vehicles Fleet Services included in the" final "list of vehicles damaged by Sandy were inoperable – and some had even been tagged for salvage years ago."
In a statement DOT said it had first encountered the problem in 2016 when a US attorney warned the department that Sandy's reimbursement claims were too broad. The DOT informs NPR that it has "fully cooperated" with an investigation and has since introduced stricter procedures to reduce the risk of recurrence, including a new fellowship compliance officer and a central, comprehensive monitoring system for the Thousands of Fleet Vehicles of the Agency
According to the settlement, a city employee reported to the city in 2014 for the first time improper claims. The deputy commissioner of DOT, who signed the confirmation that Sandy had caused the damage, was informed by the employee in an e-mail of June 2014 that some of these vehicles had been "garbage" for years. The clerk said that DOT itself told the NYPD in 2009 that the paving machines had been "dumped under the highway for seven years and taken apart by vandals," the complaint said.
Even Upon Receipt In this email, the city continued to request FEMA to reimburse these vehicles.
It was not until the city became aware of the US attorney's investigation that it changed its application and offered more than $ 3 million for seven paving vehicles that it mistakenly included in its first claim for repayment, according to the settlement.
However, the US attorney claimed that the city was still seeking reimbursement for several additional vehicles damaged before the storm.
"With so many residents of New York affected by Superstorm Sandy It is crucial to ensure that every dollar of earmarked aid is properly spent and settled," said Mark Tasky, US Department of Homeland Secur's Special Agent The Office of the Inspector General of the Commission in a statement.
Vanessa Romo of NPR contributed to this report.