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 are 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.
"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 tells us, 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 tell us how many stimulus tips they've received. So, we tried to find out if there are any active investigations into stimulus fraud. Here's what the FBI told us.
"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, Sandy Coats still expects cases to develop. He says 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 two billion dollars 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," said Coats.
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's happy with the results.
"We have not had one ounce of fraud or abuse in the stimulus package," said Burrage.
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 has not found anything fraudulent happening but, he still says it could be a problem.
"My radar is still up very high. I hope I don't find it, but, we're still looking very hard," said Burrage.
Typically, 7% 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 you 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 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," said Sandy Coats, U.S. Attorney.
If you know about any stimulus fraud, waste or abuse, call the statewide hotline. That number is 1-877-259-7337.