From the archives: 8 Pieces of Molding, January 26, 2008 | Hurricane Katrina

305 days after the launching of “100 Homes in 100 Days,” and 205 days after its official end on the 4th of July of last year, criticism and allegations of misappropriated Katrina dollars continue to beleaguer the agencies involved. Among these are the two largest nonprofits in the country both of whom received the lion’s share of Katrina donations: American Red Cross and Salvation Army, respectively.

879 days full of gut wrenching suffering, utter chaos, and a multitude of botched relief efforts, the survivors of Katrina and those who opened their hearts and wallets to help them in their hour of need discover the road to Katrina’s disappearing dollars is a difficult one to trace.

Difficult, but not impossible.It’s always flattering to hear your blog has an audience. However, it does take on a different meaning when those who’ve become regular readers are the very agencies that should have installed stronger checks and balances within their Hurricane Relief Programs.

Since my last article: “Red Cross under FBI eye for Alleged Katrina Fraud” on January 9th, additional information has surfaced. Perhaps I should rewrite that sentence and make it read: since my last piece about 100 Homes in 100 Days and the others that preceded it, I’ve been approached by those who say “cover-ups are definitely in high gear,” and in one letter a recovery specialist offered this: “They are now trying to frantically finish the 100 Home project because of the scrutiny you have generated.”

Following are excerpts from the January 9th piece:· The accusations include failure to follow required Red Cross procedures, improper use of money and supplies, and “partnering” with a possible felon, which is in violation of Red Cross rules. The allegations are wide ranging and may prove to be criminal. A Red Cross Press Release dated March 26, 2007 states:”Five organizations lead a coalition effort to renovate and rebuild 100 homes in 100 calendar days. The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Mississippi Home Again, Hope Has a Face Foundation and Jackson County Community Services Coalition have created a project process that focuses on rebuilding entire neighborhoods in a compressed timeframe.”· 100/100, as it is referred to within the agencies, was funded through the Red Cross’s Means to Recovery program allotting a cap of $20,000 to be used per home. The Salvation Army added another $10,000.

Among the specific problems was that monies used by the program for each home were not used for the homeowner in whose name the money was drawn. Also in question by those working in hurricane recovery is that all money for all homes was “taken” even though the home may not have been repaired or rebuilt.”The agencies are reading your blog to see what’s going on,” several of my sources have told me.

As many of you know I’ve been looking into Katrina fraud within the Red Cross and other agencies, so on the one hand it’s encouraging to see I’m on the right track. Having said that, it’s also downright disconcerting to have your worst fears confirmed: Katrina donations have been misappropriated, misspent and all of us have been duped.

Cleve Smith, a 59-year-old disabled homeowner is among those in the program. “By the time those people came by I had already used my money and fixed most of my home. They were in my house for 2 days,” he said. “On the first day they cut my windows out, but they cut out too much. They didn’t know what they were doing.”The sense of the group not knowing what they were doing is one shared by other homeowners who claim the group seemed to know little, if anything, about construction, home building or home repairs.”On the second day, I asked them to get me some materials and I would finish the job because really I didn’t trust their labor. But that was a long time ago.”

Smith told me when I initially interviewed him for this story two days ago.

I then contacted Home Depot and as Oprah has been known to say on her TV show: it got int’restinglyeer and int’restinglyeer.

A spokesperson said the following verbatim about Cleve Smith and his account at Home Depot.

”And he has several different [emphasis added] orders. Do you have an idea of what item you’re looking for?”Then she said:”Okay he has paid for some molding that he has not picked up yet. I got a call earlier today that somebody is coming by I believe tomorrow to pick up some other supplies for some other houses and they’re going to pick up the rest of his molding. I don’t know if it’s baseboard, or if it’s door and window molding, but we have some that’s paid for and not been picked up yet. The last thing I know about his house is that they had put all the baseboard and all the trim and they were a little bit short? They called and we got it paid for on the voucher and nobody picked it up yet. We do have several pieces of molding. Let me see, it is 112 linear feet of door and window molding, and somebody is supposed to come by tomorrow and pick it up tomorrow and take it to his house. David Houchins is going to install it in his home for him.”

Okay, so I inquired who’s David Houchins? And she said: “David is with 100 Homes 100 Days from what I understand he is volunteering. He had three clients he had gotten close with during the course of the project and he said he would do it for them. One of them is Cleve Smith.”

I tried calling Home Depot again and got stonewalled. No doubt someone had instructed them to say no more. So I called Mr. Smith again.-


”Someone left 8 pieces of molding by my carport and that’s probably because you called them,” Smith told me. “It sure isn’t 112 feet and David hasn’t done anything in my home!”

But wait there’s more from Home Depot. The account for the 100 Homes project was set up by the Salvation Army in the amount of $10,000 per household for every home in the project. I was able to get Home Depot to send me a copy of their master list and as can be seen HERE most of the accounts have withdrawals. One would have to question how this could be since many homeowners claim no work has ever been done on their property. However, it corroborates allegations the group tapped into the homeowner’s accounts.

According to the same spokesperson from Home Depot, only two people had access to the account: Jim Yancey and Keith Canfield. “By the time I took this job in June of last year Yancey wasn’t coming in any longer. So Keith Canfield was the person who called and ordered on these accounts.”

The “accounts” are actually one account, which would make sense. What doesn’t make sense is they’re all filed under a California cell phone number belonging to Debbie Dismukes, Project Manager for Hope Has A Face. Why would an account holding at least $1,000,000 be so carelessly handled without someone from Salvation Army countersigning on withdrawals? Another revelation when speaking with Home Depot about the 100/100 program was the numbers of the homes involved.

When I first began to investigate the program, I learned there were only 99 homes, not 100. Then I started to hear about monies having been taken from the program and used on homes that did not belong to the program. Homes allegedly fixed by persons connected to the program to be sold for profit. As can be seen by the spreadsheet, there are 99 spots for names even though the page is numbered 1 through 100. The Home Depot spokesperson told me there were 113 homes in the 100/100 program. A second Home Depot employee on a different day also told me the number of homes in the program was 113 not 99 and not 100. So where are they and where is that money?”The Salvation Army closed all the accounts when the program ended,” the Home Depot spokesperson said.

If that’s the case, then why are some of them still labeled “OPEN,” and why could someone still order from Cleve Smith’s “Closed” account?-

SCANDAL ALERT My sources have confirmed internal investigations into the 100/100 program have been done by both Salvation Army and American Red Cross.”The chief investigator for the Red Cross came down here a couple of weeks ago. They went into some of the homes and asked questions. But no one’s talking. The fact that Paige Roberts hasn’t been fired tells me they’re doing a good job at covering all of this up,” a recovery specialist revealed. (Paige Roberts is the head of Southeast Red Cross chapter and her extramarital affair with CEO Mark Everson was cited as the reason American Red Cross fired him last November).

It is rumored Paige Roberts wanted both Michelle Wilson and Carla Poole fired for speaking with me about the allegations. The matter is said to have been brought before the committee for review and both women’s jobs were spared. “But, they’ve been told not to talk, only certain people are going to speak to reporters now,” a source told me.”People are scared. They’re implicated by negligence. If these funds were stolen and went undetected, no one was looking into the 100/100 program,” he added.-

MEANS TO RECOVERY On May 17th of last year I made a startling discovery. Having heard about some “secret” Red Cross money I called Red Cross at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. and spoke with Jeanne Ellinport who told me in no uncertain terms the Hurricane Recovery Program known as Means to Recovery was not to be made public. In other words, Red Cross had no intention of letting survivors know about the program. Ever. Although the program initially rolled out on October 1, 2006, there weren’t many caseworkers and certainly no survivors who knew about the $20,000 per household “long term recovery” assistance. Initially the program was set at $10,000 cap per household, however because there hadn’t been any outreach and the initial application was 45 pages long, few caseworkers applied for this assistance on behalf of their Katrina clients. I contacted The New York Times after getting some advice from former Mayor Art Agnos of San Francisco, who had his own run in with American Red Cross in 1989 when an earthquake rocked his city.

At the time Red Cross was going to leave with the bulk of donations received while many of the people of San Francisco were still in need. Mayor Agnos was successful in getting Red Cross to leave the money and it was used for those in whose name it was raised.”I had pull,” Agnos told me. “I was the Mayor. You have to keep going. Call The New York Times and tell them. Get someone to do a story and you might get people to see the problem.”

And so, I did. Before the story ran I broke it on my own and it had a ripple effect with other groups across the country. On May 18th it was reported 100,000 people, old and young, infirmed and well bodied made it over to the Red Cross office in New Orleans where they were greeted with a “CLOSED” sign. If you happened to dial Red Cross’ main 800 number during those days you would have heard: “Means to Recovery is a rumor.” Other strange things happened and then Red Cross gave a weak confession of their secretive Means to Recovery program to the reporters from the New York Times.

In the August 10th piece called “Red Cross Faces Criticism Over Aid Program for Hurricane Evacuees,” it states: “Evacuees and charities whose caseworkers have applied for money for their clients accuse the Red Cross of obstruction, pointing out that initially the application form was more than 20 pages long and that some families have waited months for a response. Because the program was not advertised, many families had no opportunity to apply. “Before we understand the 100 Homes in 100 Days Program, we have to understand Means to Recovery and how the Red Cross handled the program. It was disconcerting that many families had no opportunity to apply for this much needed help, as was mentioned in the article.

However, it was even more surprising to see how every household in the 100/100 program was pre-approved for Means to Recovery funds. The program, according to Red Cross, was supposed to assist 4,000 families. One of the initial complaints about Means to Recovery was that Red Cross was “picking and choosing who to help and who not to help.” It seemed families who desperately needed help weren’t getting it and families who seemed to be doing just fine on their own were being given the money. It didn’t make sense to a lot of people: both insiders and survivors.

If one were to look at who received Means to Recovery funds, there wouldn’t be more than a handful of people in the same area who were lucky enough to have been green lighted for the program. If you look at Pascagoula, Mississippi and into the 100 Homes in 100 Days, you would find every family helped received funding from Means to Recovery. That is, if the funding wasn’t diverted to others, as alleged within this program.

Additionally, Means to Recovery came with a stipulation. It could not be tapped into with having a caseworker assigned to the family who would work with the family for a long period of time. The caseworker had to work closely with the client identifying long-term solutions before presenting the case to the Long Term Recovery Committee.After presenting the case before the Long Term Recovery Committee, only then could the case be presented to the Red Cross who had final say on who to approve and reject. All of this was alledgedly never part of the 100 Homes in 100 Days program.

So when in my last piece I stated Long Term Recovery Committee specialists had complained Red Cross broke its own rules, this is one of the rules it is alledged to have broken. No caseworkers. Additionally caseworkers assigned to take the person (and usually it was a family, individuals rarely received Means to Recovery funds) through the “recovery phase” were instructed by Red Cross to hand in receipts. If the paperwork wasn’t there, caseworkers could not apply or receive Means to Recovery money. Receipts were needed BEFORE people were approved, before they spent a dime, receipts and the names of the stores with their tax ID numbers had to be submitted.

The paperwork and receipts for the 100 Homes in 100 Days program was another rule recovery specialists allege Red Cross broke. No receipts were provided. None of the obligatory stuff Red Cross wanted every agency and every caseworker to comply with. Paige Roberts was exempt from Red Cross rules. And, if we are to delve a little deeper here: let it be clear Red Cross told the reporter I contacted, Shaila Dewan of The New York Times (and probably Stephanie Strom who co-authored the piece) they allotted $80 million for Means to Recovery. $41 million to pay new caseworkers with the remaining $39 million to go towards Katrina, Rita and Wilma survivors.-

DONOR DOLLARS SHRINKING I’ve always said I have nothing against helping people, but frankly the money was raised to help Katrina survivors. Initially none of Red Cross money was being used for Rita and certainly not for Wilma. Before anyone knew what happened all Hurricane Relief Programs included survivors for all three hurricanes. And if survivors of these hurricanes would have been the recipients of monies collected, that would have been fine. But with the shrinking of those donor dollars from big wig salaries and then more salaries for every program to thefts which have already been proven and several on-going allegations of impropriety with donor dollars, we can ask: what’s really left for survivors? Oh. I forgot. 8 pieces of molding might be what they get. That is, if they get anything at all.

By Kirby Sommers 2008 Copyright