A True Story Of Drugs, Sex, Alcohol And FEMA Fraud

My wife and I were in Canada when hurricane Katrina hit, my wife did not sleep for days. Her family was in the Slidell area and she could find no way to locate any of them. Power was out, the phone lines were down. There was little that we could do but watch and wait. The TV news ensured us that FEMA were moving Heaven and Earth to bring normality to the region. Over time we discovered that Jan’s family was all safe and sound, her 15 year old son turned up in Florida, safe and sound. One by one her other family members resurfaced. At first they were very happy with the support offered by FEMA, emergency supplies, money, and mobile homes to live in while repairs were made to their homes.

In September 2008 my wife and I decided to move back to the general area, although three years had  passed the evidence of destruction was still evident. Much worse though were the mental scars left with the people that had lived through this terrible natural disaster.

In August 2008 Hurricane Gustav hit the same general area, although a little further west. In its path lay Terrebonne Parish, and it is in the aftermath of Gustav’s swath of destruction that Keifer Bonvillain picks up his narrative in The Broken Road To Disaster Recovery.

I learned a great deal about the mechanics of government disaster relief from this book. Most people have never had the misfortune (thankfully) of being involved in a natural disaster and understand little of the role that FEMA play. FEMA in reality is a rather small organization, their role more than anything else is to act as banker and overseer, contracting out the actual work to companies and subcontractors. These contracts can be highly lucrative with millions of dollars up for grabs. In the immediate aftermath of a hurricane is the need to clear trees and other debris to re-establish the road and street access. Contractors both local and from afar are paid by the cubic yard of material they remove.

There is a problem though, and FEMA realize it, a less than scrupulous contractor could overestimate the size of his loads, or even charge for phantom loads. FEMA does not have the manpower to monitor the activity and so brings in a third party to execute the checks and balances. It is one such company BDR (Beck Disaster Recovery) that Keifer Bonvillain finds himself working for.  BDR themselves are a relatively small organization and much like the US government at Census time recruit local people on a temporary basis to assist in the mission.

Keifer is recruited as a Monitor, his job is simplicity itself. All he needs is a cell phone and a car. He is assigned a truck to follow and his mission is to watch them load it up and write a ticket, what the load consists of, the location that the debris was removed from, the date and time, and various other pieces of information. The truck driver is given a copy which effectively is used to bill FEMA, and BDR is given a copy which is used for audit purposes.

A foolproof system yes? Well no, it is far from foolproof, and as Keifer explains it is a system that just begs fraud on all fronts. Contractors are paid by the cubic yard, common sense dictates that someone needs to certify the yardage of a truck to determine its capacity, could a measurer be bribed to say a truck is 35 yards rather than 30? Someone must determine the percentage of capacity that a truck is loaded to. For example if fallen trees and branches are being removed there are pockets of air, is the truck 75%, 85%, or even 90% full? Could someone be bribed or paid off to overestimate? This believe it or not is just the tip of the iceberg. These are minor infractions compared to what Keifer has unearthed as a result of becoming a BDR employee. His strong work ethic got him noticed within days of starting and he rapidly rose through the ranks of the company operation in the clean up after Gustav.

What Keifer found is profoundly disturbing, corruption, fraud, and unethical behavior happened at all levels. FEMA were taken for millions of dollars for work that was not done, yet was billed for.

Most books of the whistle blower variety make attempts to conceal identities to prevent litigation or other types of retaliation. Keifer has taken the high road and named names, places, and events. It is also clear that he has the hard evidence of what happened. I do know from talking with him that he has passed on his evidence to the FBI. The question in my mind is will they going to act on this evidence?

Understand, this is not a case of some person making a quick $100 of play money, this was a systematic and long lasting fraud against FEMA. It is not FEMA that paid for the sex, drugs, booze, or the 14 hour days claimed on the time sheets but never worked, it is the US taxpayer that has paid this bill.

Clearly there was also some freelancing going on, again FEMA footed the bill.

(left)Supervisor James Pitre allowed crews to pick up debris in Thibodaux and ordered monitors to change the address to Terrebonne Parish. When monitor Norma Savoy refused to pick up the debris in Thibodaux, the tree cutting service told her James Pitre had already been paid for the debris removal.

Reading The Broken Road has angered me a great deal. And my Investigative Journalist instinct has been awoken. One thing is clear, you have not heard the last on this story from Simon Barrett. I do plan on researching BDR (Beck Disaster Recovery) and several of their employees including Steve Black, Danny Black, Wayne Penoli, and several others. I also plan on exploring several of the firms contracted to perform the clean up, including Omni Pinnacle.

If you are a disgruntled tax payer you really need to read this book. If you were a victim of Gustav you need to read this book. In fact everyone needs to read this book, and the government needs to seriously investigate this case, in fact it needs to take a long hard look at the whole world of FEMA operations.

Copies of The Broken Road are available for purchase through Keifer Bonvillain’s web site.

Simon Barrett

Be Sociable, Share!