SAN FRANCISCO — Nine people were charged with bilking the Red Cross of at least $25,000 donated for Hurricane Katrina victims, the FBI said Tuesday.
Four suspects were contract workers at a Red Cross national call center in Bakersfield, said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott. The other five allegedly picked up checks they weren’t entitled to.
“This is very much an ongoing case,” Scott said. “We are probably going to wind up with a lot more people charged.”
The Red Cross said it set up the national call center in Bakersfield for Hurricane Katrina victims seeking assistance. Operators provide qualifying victims with a personal identification number they then present to receive funds from Western Union.
“The bad guys would call their buddies and give them PIN numbers,” Scott said. “Sometimes they’d just call with unused PIN numbers. Sometimes they’d give a victim a PIN number and turn around and call a buddy with the same PIN, and there’d be a race to Western Union.”
Each suspect is charged with wire fraud.
The Red Cross contacted the FBI after it performed an audit of the call center and discovered “that way too many people in Bakersfield were getting aid,” Scott said.
The call center is operated by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Spherion, which said in a statement that it’s cooperating with investigators.
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