Hurricane Katrina Fraud

An FBI SWAT Team helps local law enforcement on the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. AP Photo.
An FBI SWAT Team helps local law enforcement on the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. AP Photo.

As water gushed into New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina in August 2005, the FBI began pouring people and resources into the beleaguered city.

Within days, we had nearly 500 special agents and staff from all over the country on the ground who were part of a coordinated federal effort, working with state and local authorities to help rein in the chaos and rescue those still stranded.

What we found was staggering. The hurricane caused massive wind damage and unprecedented flooding. "I couldn't believe my eyes," said Boston Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Ken Kaiser, who temporarily left his post to serve as the on-scene tactical commander in New Orleans. "More than 80 percent of the city was flooded, up to the rooftops in some places. There were scores of helpless people."

Kaiser, a former New Orleans SAC, headed a team of more than 200 FBI agents with specialized training, including SWAT and hostage rescue team members, communications specialists, helicopter pilots, and evidence collection specialists. In addition to Kaiser, we immediately dispatched New Haven SAC Michael J. Wolf, now heading the Critical Incident Response Group, or CIRG. Wolf represented the FBI in the Law Enforcement Coordination Center, a multi-agency task force that drew members from local, state, and federal agencies.

The task force's immediate mission was to secure the city. FBI tactical personnel were the lead federal agents working with the New Orleans police in two of the city's eight police districts. They answered emergency calls, stopped looting, and assisted with search and rescue operations.

FBI personnel worked out of a downtown hotel spared from the worst of the flooding and from a mobile command center established in Baton Rouge. Our teams patrolled the devastated city and helped guard critical sites, including the ruined New Orleans FBI Office. SAC James Bernazzani—along with New Orleans agents, two New Orleans Police Department officers, and two contract security personnel—stayed in our downtown building as the flood waters were rising to guard classified information, criminal evidence, and weapons.

Bernazzani also worked with local officials to produce intelligence assessments of known or suspected violent criminals in the New Orleans area who might have fled to safer locations. We shared the information with other field offices and law enforcement officials across the nation.

We also quickly established a task force with other law enforcement agencies to thwart and investigate hurricane-related fraud and scams.

The work in the hurricane ravaged areas is far from over—and made all the more difficult by the damage caused less than a month later by Hurricane Rita. "We're going to rebuild, just like the city," SAC Bernazzani told one reporter. "We're part of the community."

In addition to New Orleans, we also lent a hand in other Gulf Coast areas battered by the storm—including in Alabama and Mississippi—setting up command posts, working with our partners to help find missing children and their families, and sending employees with specialized experience.