FEMA ordered to release addresses of recipients of mysterious payments

Story here. The payments were ostensibly for disaster relief following Hurricane Frances – but they went to 1.3 million residents of Miami-Dade County, which was hardly affected at all by that hurricane (it hit 100 miles north of there). Three Florida newspapers have been trying for three years to get FEMA to release the recipients’ names and addresses, and now a federal appellate court has finally ruled it must.

Issue for debate: What went on here? What exactly has FEMA been hiding and why?

No clue, however I do think it is a privacy violation if private citizens names are being publicized like this.

I don’t see it as a big deal, it’s a matter of public record.

It doesn’t appear that it was until after this court ruling.

If they are collecting tax dollars for something, then it becomes a matter of public record. They are bound to uncover massive corruption and mis-management of funds, which is why FEMA has been fighting the release so hard. I hope they prosecute everybody envolved to the fullest extent of the law, as necessary. Especially those in FEMA who signed off on fraudulent payments.

I don’t think that the ruling of the court was “it wasn’t public until just now, when we decided that it would be.”

Believe it or not, at one time income tax returns were considered public record, copies were given to newspaper publishers. 'twould make for interesting reading, that’s for certain.

According to section b(7) of the Freedom of Information Act (aren’t you glad I was researching this for another thread?) investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes are not releasable to the public.

Makes sense on the face of it. And I wonder if this order would be quashed on appeal.

I’m all for cleaning up fraud in the agency, but rules are there to be followed.

But that was the practical effect.

This was the appeal. It would next have to be appealed to the SCOTUS. Would they hear it? . . . That could get interesting . . . Really interesting . . .

Okay, thanks for the research, but next time please “research” the topic at hand as well.

This is not about a request for law enforcement records. This is about getting a copy of a FEMA payment list (with the names expunged). Here’s the sequence of events:

  1. Hurricane Frances causes mild breezes and some rainfall in Miami-Dade.
  2. FEMA swoops in and starts writing a check to everyone in sight.
  3. Several newpapers, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (SFSS) begin questioning the number of payments to an area that pretty much didn’t get hit.
  4. They (the papers) file a FOIA request to get names/addresses of payees.
  5. FEMA refused.
  6. Lawsuit filed.
    6a. SFSS continues investigating using other methods while lawsuit proceeds.
    6b. Investigative reporting shows widespread abuse & fraud.
    6c. Fed. Gov. reads newspaper, start own investigation(s) resulting in some indictments and an admission that FEMA is kinda fucked up.
  7. Initial trial judge says the newspapers are entitled to addresses, but not names.
  8. FEMA appeals.
  9. 11th Fed. Cir. Ct. says trial judge got it right.

That help?

And, to clarify further, the “trial” judge referenced in 7. and 9. is the judge sitting on the case of the FOIA lawsuit referenced in 6. (without subhead) – not the criminal indictment referenced in 6c. All a FOIA lawsuit deals with, ceteris paribus, is whether or not a private entity (usually but not always a news medium) that requested information from a government agency which refused their request is in fact entitled to that information – not whether that information is criminal in nature.

In this case, those records were not accumulated for law enforcement purposes; they were records of payees of government funds, entitled to the initial presumpion of legality. Hence that wasn’t a valid exemption – even if it did in fact turn out to be the case that there was hanky-panky going on.

To give an example of how a valid payment might be made, consider John Claude Oldphart, resident of 9438 Mangoblossom Terrace SW, Coral Gables FL. Mr. Oldphart is the retired comptroller of Amalgamated Widget Corp., one of the nation’s leading producers of hypothetical legal situations. To avoid capital gains tax several years back, he diverted some windfall profits into the down payment on the purchase of several rental properties in Palm Beach, which he has been diverting the rents from into paying off their mortgages on an accelerated basis.

All but one of Mr. Oldphart’s Palm Beach rental properties were rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Frances – even though he himself lives a hundred miles to the south, he suffered a loss. He had catastrophic-damage insurance purchased through FEMA on these properties, and was entitled to a FEMA payout. This would be a perfectly valid and legal payment of moneys for legitimate hurricane damage from Hurricane Frances to a Miami-Dade resident.

Mr. Oldphart’s existence and title to such properties are of course hypothetical. What he’s doing in this thread is furnishing an example of how, on the one hand, there could be legal payouts of the sort contemplated in the investigation being discussed, and, on the other, why the FEMA payout records are not ipso facto exempt as part of a law enforcement investigation.

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

If I ever get the chance, I’m so going to steal this.

There were 1.3 million recipients of the payments in question. I doubt more than a few of them were absentee landlords of property in damaged areas.

Can a Mod fix the thread title? It should say “addresses,” not “names” – I misread that bit of the article.

Still don’t get the reasoning behind that ruling. If a newspaper has an address, it can find the identity of everyone who has lived there the past several years.