Stimulus Fraud Put To Reality Check

Wednesday, June 24th 2009, 10:38 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, The News On 6

UNDATED -- As taxpayers foot the bill for President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package, Oklahoma officials say they'll be your watchdogs to prevent waste and fraud.  Meanwhile one Oklahoma senator says it's too late for that.

In Tallahassee Florida, they have a turtle problem.  Thousands of the turtles are killed every year because of a highway the state built in the middle of their habitat.  Their solution is to use $3.4 million in stimulus funds to build a system that would lead the turtles underneath the highway.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn says that's a waste of money.

"We haven't made priorities. They are wasteful projects and most of us don't want to steal future from our grandkids to be able to do something that's really stupid right now," said Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

But, officials in Florida say Coburn doesn't know what he's talking about.

"You've got 30 to 40 pound box turtles as big as a manhole cover crossing this highway. Now, if Senator Coburn was to drive his SUV speeding down Highway 27 at 60 miles per hour tonight and met one of those fellows he would have an unpleasant encounter," said Leon County Commissioner Cliff Thaell.

Back in Oklahoma, federal and state officials say they're keeping an eye on our share of the money to make sure it's not wasted in our state."

"With such unprecedented levels of fundings comes understandably tremendous risks for fraud, for abuse, and for waste of those monies if we're not careful," said U.S. Attorney John Richter.

With $2.6 billion headed this way they say fraud prevention is a top priority and they will investigate and prosecute agencies who misuse the stimulus funding.

"With those billions of dollars in stimulus funding coming to Oklahoma, even a small percentage of fraud would result in substantial taxpayer losses," said U.S. Attorney David O'Meilia.

And as part of this effort they're calling on you, the taxpayer, to report suspected cases of fraud, waste and abuse.  A hotline has been created.  The number is 877-259-7337.