Extra Extra : September 2005

Data reveals no-bid contracts for hurricane clean up

Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon of The New York Times used federal contract data covering hurricane response to show that "more than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition ... provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse." FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have spent the most so far. (Note: For other stories looking at what went wrong in the Katrina disaster, please see IRE's Katrina resources page.)

Hospitals not prepared for worst quake scenario

Duane W. Gang and David Olson of The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise examined state, county and hospital emergency plans and found that Inland California counties were unprepared to provide medical services after a large earthquake. "A major temblor could leave multiple hospitals damaged and unable to treat their own patients, let alone the thousands of injured."

Mayoral candidates raise money far and wide

Gregory Korte of The Cincinnati Enquirer analyzed campaign finance reports and found that more than half the contributions in a mayoral race comes from outside Cincinnati. There have been fund-raising evemts for the race held in San Francisco, New York City, Denver and Washington, D.C. The analysis also reveals that one candidate relies on larger contributions from more individuals while the other receives donations from industry groups. Maps show where the candidates' contributions come from.

Disaster plans lacking in Hudson Valley area

Greg Bruno of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., looked into disaster plans for communities of the Catskills and Hudson Valley, finding that three-quarters of them would be unprepared. "Of the 75 communities that provided their plans for review, only 25 percent are updated or specific enough to be useful in a catastrophe, according to state emergency planning standards." The paper found some plans don't include basic information, such as shelter locations and phone numbers for first responders; others are generic or fill-in-the-blank documents; and some planners have not studied possible disaster scenarios. "Only 16 communities are in ... Read more ...

Getty museum had clues it was buying looted pieces

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino of the Los Angeles Times report the J. Paul Getty Museum, the world's richest art institution, knew as early as 1985 that "three of their principal suppliers were selling objects that probably had been looted and that the museum continued to buy from them anyway." The Times obtained Getty documents that "include memos, purchase agreements, correspondence and other records going back 20 years."

Navy contracted for planes in CIA operation

Seth Hettena of The Associated Press reports the Navy issued contracts for planes "reportedly used to fly terror suspects to countries known to practice torture." The AP says documents from the Department of Defense, obtained through a FOIA request, involve more planes (33) than previously reported. While there was "scrutiny in 2001, but what hasn't been disclosed is the Navy's role in contracting planes involved in operations the CIA terms 'rendition' and what Italian prosecutors call kidnapping."

Missteps, fraud have plagued FEMA

Megan O'Matz, Sally Kestin, John Maines and Jon Burstein of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel continue the paper's investigation into FEMA. "The handling of aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina is only the latest in a series of missteps and fraud that has plagued this tax-funded government agency. The Sun-Sentinel took a look at 20 recent disasters and found mismanagement and misallocation abound." Among the findings: thousands of claims in Cleveland for damaged washers and dryers after a thunderstorm when the city received only 73 complaints; claims of smoke damage in Los Angeles from wildfires that were 30 miles ... Read more ...

Nonprofits mislead about destination of donations

Kelby Hartson Carr of The Times in Munster, Ind., looks into the accuracy of IRS 990 forms filed by nonprofit organizations. After an examination of all 990s filed for "fiscal year 2003 by nonprofit agencies based in Lake County, Porter County and Chicago's south suburbs," the paper found that 70 percent that raised public donations reported no fund-raising expenses. Experts say it is difficult to raise money without spending money and "zero-expense fund-raising claims always should be questioned." The project includes a database of the nonprofits that includes the data from their 990 forms. Other parts of the series ... Read more ...

County loses money to court-appointed attorney fees

Dave Moore of the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle finds Denton County might have paid more than $350,000 more that it was required in court-appointed attorney fees. "The source of most of the non-mandatory legal bills to the county has been 393rd District Court Judge Vicki Isaacks, who has been appointing those attorneys mostly for children in civil divorce cases," though state law only requires the count to pay for the defense of indigent people charge with crimes and for those involving Child Protective Services. "Because Vicki Isaacks' husband, Bruce Isaacks, is the Denton County district attorney, her cases infrequently deal ... Read more ...

Lax oversight contributes to high foreclosure rate

Geoff Dutton and Jill Riepenhoff of The Columbus Dispatch investigated Ohio's high foreclosure rate, "a problem fueled by a weak economy, aggressive mortgage brokers, financial overreaching and tepid state oversight.". The newspaper analyzed Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, obtained U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit reports of homebuilders through the federal Freedom of Information Act, and analyzed state and county foreclosure records and sheriff's sales data. On the second day of the series, state lawmakers from both political parties vowed to tighten Ohio's loose regulation of the mortgage industry. (Note: For reporters interested in ... Read more ...