Louisiana Investigating Red Cross, Humane Society

New allegations of fraud involving Hurricane Katrina relief prompt Louisiana's attorney general to launch two investigations targeting the American Red Cross and the Humane Society for "widespread theft" in food and money distribution, and efforts to reunite pets with their owners.

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The Attorney General of Louisiana has launched two new investigations involving Hurricane Katrina relief. One focuses on the American Red Cross and allegations of widespread theft in the distribution of food, supplies, and money. The other targets the Humane Society of the United States and its effort to rescue pets and reunite them with their owners.

NPR's Howard Berkes has details.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

The Red Cross has been the target of a steady stream of complaints since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. But complaints about the Humane Society are relatively new, so a bit about that first.

Here's Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, Jr.

Mr. CHARLES FOTI, JR (Louisiana Attorney General): This is an organization that was collecting money to assist in the recovery, the care and keeping of these animals and the subsequent reuniting of these animals with their owners. And so we asked them what they would do and how they was doing it, where the money was spent.

BERKES: The Humane Society raised $30 million dollars with its Hurricane appeals and rescued 10,000 animals. But only 2,000 were reunited with owners. That has triggered dozens of complaints about how the money was spent and how pets were put up for adoption before owners could be found.

Wayne Pacelli of the Humane Society admits a half-million dollars was used for other disasters, and he says relatively few pets were reunited with owners because evacuees were unreachable, and animal shelters overflowed.

Mr. WAYNE PACELLI (President, United States Humane Society): They could not indefinitely hold these animals. They don't have enough space and they have their own homeless animal problems to deal with in their communities. So it was critical that at some point they be adopted out.

BERKES: Pacelli says the Humane Society will cooperate with the Attorney General's inquiry.

That pledge is repeated at the American Red Cross, where a new probe involves money distributed to storm victims and truckloads of relief supplies and food. A report prepared by a Red Cross whistleblower suggests some supervisors and volunteers in Louisiana diverted relief supplies and money to an illicit black market.

Attorney General Foti.

Mr. FOTI: The Red Cross probably raised somewhere between two and three billion dollars because of Hurricane Katrina. We want to see how that money was spent and where it was spent so that charitable organizations in the future will have the trust of the general public for legitimate causes.

BERKES: Acting Red Cross CEO Jack GcGuire says he welcomes Louisiana's scrutiny.

Mr. JACK GCGUIRE (CEO, United States Red Cross): The reality is, is that we had about 230,000 volunteers for the hurricanes. This represents a handful of people. But we are currently investigating any complaints that have come in, and we'll rigorously go after anything that we find.

BERKES: The Red Cross plans to turn over the results of its own internal probes to other law enforcement agencies this week. That may trigger new investigations.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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