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Stimulus Fraud Hotline Barely Ringing

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Since being launched one year ago, the stimulus fraud hotline has only received six phone calls regarding misused stimulus funds. Since being launched one year ago, the stimulus fraud hotline has only received six phone calls regarding misused stimulus funds.
Federal officials said they expect about $55 billion stimulus dollars will be lost through fraud, waste and abuse, if their estimates are correct. Federal officials said they expect about $55 billion stimulus dollars will be lost through fraud, waste and abuse, if their estimates are correct.
Federal officials said even though they aren't hearing much about stimulus fraud in the state, they know it's happening and need the public's help to uncover it. Federal officials said even though they aren't hearing much about stimulus fraud in the state, they know it's happening and need the public's help to uncover it.

By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's been a year since the big launch of the stimulus fraud hotline, but not that many people have been calling.

"The calls haven't really been fast and furious, but the money hasn't all been out there that long," said James Finch, FBI Special Agent In Charge.

The FBI, State Auditor and Inspector, and U.S. Attorneys set up the hotline a year ago. The goal was to encourage people who see stimulus fraud, waste or abuse to report it. Whistle blower protections are in place to safeguard callers and you can also make anonymous tips.

Click here to learn about the hotline

"It's important for our citizens to realize that it's their tax dollars, that's their money and to report it so we can take appropriate action," said Sandy Coats, US Attorney, Western District of Oklahoma.

The FBI said just because the hotline is not ringing, it doesn't mean they're not getting tips. Sometimes, people call the main FBI phone number instead. Since the FBI does not track the calls that come into the main number, statistically, they cannot say how many stimulus tips they've received. So, we tried to find out if there are any active investigations into stimulus fraud.

"We are looking into leads associated with it but, in terms of active investigations, all I can say is that there are some that look promising," said James Finch, FBI Special Agent In Charge.

Even though the U.S. Attorney's office has no cases to prosecute, Coats said he still expects cases to develop. He said it's early in the process and not all of the money has been spent yet. Also, it takes time for people to recognize fraud and report it.

"The reality is that when you have over $2 billion and lots of people involved, there's going to be an element that feels like they can get away with stealing this or misusing it," Coats said.

There's also the theory that the publicized hotline launch and lots of talk about oversight are deterrents.

"Everywhere I've been, I've let the public know about this hotline number," said Steve Burrage, State Auditor and Inspector.

Burrage has toured the state talking to school boards, city councils, rural water districts and state agencies. So far, he said he's happy with the results.

"We have not had one ounce of fraud or abuse in the stimulus package," Burrage said.

Burrage has reviewed the audits for all state agencies that received stimulus money during the first year of funding. The audits for the second year are going on right now. He said he has not found anything fraudulent happening but said it could still be a problem.

"My radar is still up very high. I hope I don't find it, but we're still looking very hard," Burrage said.

Typically, 7 percent of government revenue is lost to fraud, waste and abuse. That means $55 billion stimulus dollars will be misused, if the estimates are correct. 

Investigators are relying on the public to tell them about stimulus fraud. If the public doesn't tip them off, there's a chance some fraud will go undetected. Federal officials said they may come up with a new strategy if calls don't come in.

"If a year from now, 18 months from now, it continues that we don't get a volume of calls, maybe there's lots of other options. We'll get together as federal law enforcement and decide the best way to ensure that it doesn't occur," Coats said.

If you know about any stimulus fraud, waste or abuse, call the statewide hotline at 1-877-259-7337. 

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