After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, certain facilities could apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help with repairing or rebuilding. The Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for help, too (which is legal because this wasn’t technically using taxpayer money to proselytize). Among other things, the Archdiocese wanted money for a damaged air conditioning unit and for rebuilding their churches.
By 2018, FEMA had approved nearly $184 million to the Archdiocese for Katrina-related matters affecting dozens of churches in the region.
It turns out the Archdiocese was lying about their needs. That air conditioning unit? It didn’t exist. The Archdiocese also overstated the size of a facility, getting more money than they actually needed. That sort of deception is illegal.
Now the Department of Justice says the Archdiocese has agreed to pay back over $1 million to “resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false claims for payment.”
“FEMA offers critical financial support when natural disasters strike,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that these taxpayer funds are properly spent to help disaster victims rebuild their communities.”
“Federal disaster funds are an instrumental component in the effort to assist disaster victims with their recovery,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “The favorable resolution of this False Claims Act matter illustrates the collaborative efforts and firm commitment by our federal partners to use all available remedies to address signs of fraud, waste and abuse.”
All of that is a very polite way of saying the Catholic Church tried to scam taxpayers into giving them money they didn’t deserve. Th nature of the settlement, by the way, means the Catholic Church admits to the fraud. They can’t pretend they were wronged by the government or persecuted. They’re admitting guilt.
Here’s an interesting side note, too: We know they lied because of Robert Romero, a project specialist who worked for the Los Angeles-based architecture firm (AECOM) that prepared the Archdiocese’s paperwork to send to FEMA. He blew the whistle on the misinformation and let FEMA know what was going on. As a reward for his actions, Romero will receive nearly $200,000 — a portion of the final settlement. (Romero also alerted FEMA to similar fraud that involved two historically Black universities in New Orleans, including Xavier University, which is Catholic.)
It’s all more bad news for the Archdiocese, which filed for bankruptcy last year due to all the money it had to pay out because its priests were raping children. The same Archdiocese urged people this year to avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine for reasons that had nothing to do with science and ultimately put more people in harm’s way. They’ve also been in the news this year because one of their priests was charged with vandalism after having a threesome inside a church along with two dominatrices.