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Report Oklahoma Stimulus Fraud Using Hotline

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In June, the state's three U.S. Attorneys, the top man at the FBI, and the state Auditor and Inspector announced they had created a statewide fraud hotline. In June, the state's three U.S. Attorneys, the top man at the FBI, and the state Auditor and Inspector announced they had created a statewide fraud hotline.
Just over four months later, everyday citizens said they were unaware a hotline even existed. Just over four months later, everyday citizens said they were unaware a hotline even existed.
"We believe, much like, I think, most Oklahomans believe, this is taxpayer money and we want to see it work for that purpose for which it was intended," said Bob Troester, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. "We believe, much like, I think, most Oklahomans believe, this is taxpayer money and we want to see it work for that purpose for which it was intended," said Bob Troester, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
"There have been a couple of calls," said Oklahoma City FBI Special Agent in Charge, James E. Finch. "In terms of where those calls led, did they lead to cases being opened? At this point, I can't really say." "There have been a couple of calls," said Oklahoma City FBI Special Agent in Charge, James E. Finch. "In terms of where those calls led, did they lead to cases being opened? At this point, I can't really say."

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma officials are counting on several things to ensure that federal stimulus dollars are not wasted or spent fraudulently in the state -- a watchdog state auditor, detailed reporting requirements, and a web site that puts that reporting on display. The state is also counting on one more thing, its citizens.

With about $3 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds beginning to spread out across the state, law enforcement officials decided it made sense to give people across the state an easy way report any misuse of those funds.

And so it was with some fanfare that, in June, the state's three U.S. Attorneys, the top man at the FBI, and the state Auditor and Inspector announced they had created a statewide fraud hotline.

And yet just over four months later, those same everyday citizens said they were unaware a hotline even existed.

"No, I didn't even know we had that. It's a good idea, though," said one citizen when asked if they knew about the statewide fraud hotline.

Officials in the U.S. Attorney's office said the reason for the hotline is to give law enforcement one more avenue for preventing fraud, abuse, or waste of stimulus money.

"We believe, much like, I think, most Oklahomans believe, this is taxpayer money and we want to see it work for that purpose for which it was intended," said Bob Troester, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.

But with so much taxpayer money being funneled into so many projects in such a short period of time, federal officials said they know the opportunity for fraud is significant.

"There's the opportunity for kickbacks or payoffs of some kind, preferential treatment of some kind," said Oklahoma City FBI Special Agent in Charge, James E. Finch.

FBI officials agreed to set up and man the hotline in their Communications Center. So far, the calls have been sparse.

"There have been a couple of calls," Finch said. "In terms of where those calls led, did they lead to cases being opened? At this point, I can't really say."

Troester echoed that statement.

"At this point, I'm not at liberty to comment on any of the individual reports," Troester said.

Troester did say that he and his counterparts in the eastern and northern districts are committed to aggressively prosecuting fraud, if they find it, just as they did after Hurricane Katrina when some Oklahomans fraudulently obtained relief intended for the Gulf Coast.

"And those dollars didn't even come to Oklahoma. Those dollars were intended for victims of Katrina," Troester said.

Now, with stimulus dollars seemingly everywhere, law enforcers said they have to be more vigilant in preventing fraud, waste and abuse.

"You can rest assured the government's pretty serious about protecting its interest, the taxpayer dollars," Finch said.

Finch said an important part of that protection is the fraud hotline.

Everyday citizens said they agree.

"I think it's excellent, because I do think there's a possibility for fraud if there's nobody checking and holding people accountable," said a concerned citizen.

Sheldon Sperling, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, hopes people will become more familiar with the hotline number, 1-877-259-7337.

But Sperling also said he hopes, if people are trying to report waste or fraud, but can't remember that number, that they will call or e-mail him directly. What's more, he said, if he's not available, then call or e-mail Bob Boese, who works as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma office's law enforcement coordinator.

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