13 Undercover investigation leads to audit of Ike cleanup

January 3, 2011 7:58:17 AM PST
We're now getting a look at a government audit into millions of dollars in Hurricane Ike money allegedly misused in Chambers County. That audit is a direct result of a 13 Undercover investigation.

The audit followed a 13 Undercover investigation by Wayne Dolcefino. In it, the Department of Homeland Security scrutinizes some $45 million in public money spent on debris cleanup contracts in Chambers County after Hurricane Ike. In some cases, the audit even recommends some of the money be given back. [READ THE FULL AUDIT AND THE INSPECTOR GENERAL'S LETTER SENT TO REP. TED POE]

The 13 Undercover investigation focused on who got the contracts, their relationships to county leaders and in some cases how much the contractors and workers were paid.

It may not have raised eyebrows with everyone in town.

"I feel that any money that was given out through FEMA or whatever, it came back through our own people and our own community," said resident Beth Till.

However, it did lead to an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security at the request of Congressman Ted Poe.

"This is just how Chambers County is. If you're not mister so and so's brother, sister, cousin, relative, then you can kiss it goodbye," said resident Barbara Thomas.

The audit by the department's Office of Inspector General questions whether some $45 million in public money was properly spent. It outlines problems including awarding non-competitive contracts, shoddy or non-existent records of work and pay, unreasonably high hourly rates on one contract and contractors charging overtime rates up to $188 per hour for their commute.

The report goes on to suggest some of the money should be given back...

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize what was going on," said Al Nelson.

He is not only a taxpayer, but a business owner who rents construction equipment. He says he was shut out of all work following Hurricane Ike.

"It cost us quite a bit. It's really hard to say how bad the damages were," Nelson said.

And he says he could have done it for a fraction of the cost.

"I hope they get to the bottom of what actually happened over there and hold the people accountable who were responsible for the waste of money," said Nelson.

Not everyone believes all the attention is warranted.

"To me the cleanup was done pretty good so it should be kept," Till said.

County officials were not available for comment today. They are out for the holiday, but the audit report said they "disagreed with the findings and recommendations."

It will be FEMA's decision on how these recommendations are followed.

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