Local Authorities Form Working Group to Fight Hurricane Harvey-Related Illegal Activity

The Department of Justice announced today that representatives from numerous federal and state law enforcement agencies have formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Harvey. The working group will involve all levels of law enforcement and includes representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, NCDF, Harris County DA’s Office, Texas Attorney General’s Office, SEC, FBI, DHS-OIG, HSI, IRS-CI, USSS, FTC and the ATF.

Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Abe Martinez, stated, 

This disaster has brought and will continue to bring unprecedented human and financial loss to our communities, and victims of this event have already suffered staggering devastation. The last thing that victims of this damage need is to be victimized again. Under the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, we bring a comprehensive law enforcement focus to combat any criminal activity arising from the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the rebuilding efforts.”

Examples of typical illegal activity under the jurisdiction of each of the agencies in the working group include:

  • Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials
  • Identity theft
  • Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government
  • Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving
  • Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investment returns from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts
  • Price gouging
  • Theft, looting, and other violent crime

What Happens When the Emotional Impact of the Storm Leads to False Accusations?

While people who take advantage of this disaster deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, what happens when an innocent person working to try and help others or themselves gets caught in this dragnet and accused of one of these crimes or accused of other criminal acts? Emotions are high, as well as the financial and personal losses. This could lead to false and impulsive accusations of criminal activity. 

Whether you are a business owner or contractor or even a victim who is trying to obtain funds to help rebuild, it is important that you protect yourself. Documentation is the key. All communications should be retained and documented and contracts should be used and thoroughly reviewed. 

But when law enforcement becomes involved and starts asking questions, it is important that you know your rights and have someone to advise and protect you. Brent Mayr, Paul Schiffer, and Richard Esper have all represented and protected individuals under investigation by law enforcement and federal authorities like this work group for alleged fraud and other criminal activity. If you are contacted by law enforcement, contact one of these attorneys first before taking any action or answering any questions.