Two Indian American hoteliers face fraud charges


New York : Two Indian Americans face charges of defrauding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of funds meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina that had hit the US two years back.

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Ramesh Patel, 51, and his son Chirag Patel, 26, of Union City, Georgia, were arraigned Monday before United States Magistrate Linda T. Walker on the charges.

Since October 2005, the Patels owned and operated the Comfort Inn Hotel in Union City, a place which had pre-designated rooms for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Once the evacuees checked in, the hotel sent periodic bills to FEMA for payment for housing the evacuees. The payments were made through mailing cheques.

Investigations later revealed that the hotel had billed the FEMA for evacuees who had either not stayed in the hotel or had left the hotel and had found permanent residence. The bills ran up to $20,000.

"These defendants allegedly billed FEMA by claiming that Hurricane Katrina evacuees stayed at their hotel on certain nights when in fact they did not," media reports quoted US Attorney David Nahmias as saying.

"The defendants took advantage of the chaos created by Hurricane Katrina and bilked the taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for emergency housing. Such conduct will simply not be tolerated."

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It formed on August 23 during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and caused devastation along much of the north-central Gulf Coast of the US.

FEMA is an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security and coordinates the response to a disaster which has occurred in the US and which overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities.