Desuetude--Law Nonenforcement--Hurts People

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Orleans Times-Picayune Editorial: Preying on the Vulnerable

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Many Hurricane Katrina victims have fallen prey to scams and fraud schemes since the storm. The unscrupulous contractor who takes payments but does no work is perhaps the most common -- and most reviled -- among these post-storm plagues.

But a State Police investigation is highlighting another fraud trap for storm victims, and authorities need to aggressively prosecute those who take advantage of our suffering.

Authorities are accusing three employees of a California disaster-recovery company of stealing more than $300,000 from storm victims in St. Tammany, Jefferson and Acadia parishes who were seeking help with their insurance claims.

State Police said Steve Slepcevic, Matthew Todd and Michael Mekeel set up shop in a Slidell apartment after the storm, claiming to be expert consultants who could help residents and businesses having trouble with substantial insurance claims.

Officials said the men falsely claimed to be licensed insurance adjusters and told victims their firm had claim management teams, architects, engineers and a full-service construction company to help in wrestling claim payments from insurers.

What they apparently had was no shame.

Police said the men negotiated with insurers on behalf of at least four clients, but they forged signatures on about $335,000 in insurance payments and pocketed the cash for themselves before returning to California.

Mr. Slepcevic, who turned himself in to St. Tammany law enforcement officials last week, was booked with four counts of conspiracy to commit theft by fraud and four counts of money laundering. Mr. Todd, who was arrested in Los Angeles, is awaiting extradition to Louisiana and will face three conspiracy counts. So will Mr. Mekeel, who is still at large.

Authorities are asking other people who believe they were victims of this or any other type of insurance fraud to contact State Police. Just as important is for metro New Orleans residents to remain vigilant against heartless scammers who are still targeting storm victims.


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