Cookie Cutter Justice – USA v Warr

It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.

Hang with me and, hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll see how the title, the quote and USA v Warr are connected.  Maybe.

Having never seen House Beautiful report on an indictment or the National Inquirer cover a home renovation, I can’t tell if I’ve linked to a news story (or what).

There are several central issues in the indictment against the Warrs. They include whether or not the Warr home was both their primary residence and occupied by them at the time the hurricane hit on August 29, 2005. These occupancy requirements are cited in the rules for receiving a Homeowner Grant from the Mississippi Development Agency (MDA).  A MDA Homeowner Grant provides up to $150,000 to help rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by Katrina’s storm surge that were outside the federal flood zones that existed at the time of the hurricane. The Warrs did receive the full amount.

The reference to “rules” – not law, not federal regulation but “rules” – is significant.  Federal assistance to the states has two audit trails.  One measures compliance with related fiscal requirements and the other measures compliance with program requirements. The two audit trails, however, are interdependent.  Simply stated:

Try, try, try to separate them
Its an illusion
Try, try, try, and you will only come
To this conclusion
Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage…
You can’t have one without the other.

Matt Jadack was Deputy Inspector General for Disaster Assistance Oversight when he submitted testimony to Congress on the challenge the FEMA faced in that regard:

FEMA faces a significant challenge in management/oversight of its disaster assistance grant program, as well as the DHS grant programs that will become a part of FEMA on April 1, 2007. Compounding the challenge are the grant programs of other federal agencies that assist states and local governments in improving their abilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism or natural disasters. Congress continues to appropriate and authorize funding for grant programs within and outside of DHS for similar, if not identical, purposes. We have identified at least 36 federal assistance programs that may duplicate FEMA grant programs…(emphasis added)

The chart below evidences Jadack’s claim of Congressional appropriations for grant programs administered by other federal agencies as does the text of this report.

In response to Administration requests after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf  August 29, 2005, the 109th Congress enacted two FY2005 emergency supplemental measures (P.L. 109-61 and P.L. 109-62), which appropriated $62.3 billion for immediate relief and response needs. Both measures were enacted one day after the requests were received — P.L. 109-61 on September 2, 2005, and P.L. 109-62 on September 8, 2005. In addition, Congress approved a third emergency supplemental funding request, this one for FY2006, that includes $19.3 billion for disaster recovery assistance not only for Hurricane Katrina-related damages but for other disasters as well.

Five states, including Mississippi, were eligible to receive disaster assistance funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the authority of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

The primary objective of this program is the development of viable urban communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment, and expanding economic opportunities, principally for persons of low and moderate income. Each activity funded must meet one of the program’s national objectives by either: benefiting low and moderate income families; aiding in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight; or meeting other community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community where other financial resources are not available.

States develop their own programs and funding priorities…Units of general local government funded by the State may undertake a wide range of activities directed toward neighborhood revitalization, economic development, or provision of improved community facilities and services. Specific activities that can be carried out with block grant funds include acquisition of real property, relocation and demolition, rehabilitation of residential and nonresidential structures, direct assistance to facilitate and expand homeownership among persons of low and moderate income, and provision of public facilities and improvements, such as water and sewer facilities, streets, and neighborhood centers. In addition, block grant funds may be used to pay for certain public services within certain limits.

Congress provides states with an annual allocation of CDBG funds;  and, states are eligible to receive funds after HUD approves the plan a state develops and submits.

Because the disaster assistance funds were an increased appropriation to CDBG, the release of these funds was likewise contingent on approval of a plan developed and submitted by each of the eligible states.

State plans for the use of appropriated/allocated federal funds are designed to be responsive to need. Mississippi’s plan for the use of CDBG disaster assistance funds includes the program rules MDA Mississippi Development Authority will follow and/or require sub-recipients to follow.  The program activities in the approved state plan can be found on the MDA website and the program rules for applicants for the Homeowner’s grant program found there as well.

The spirit of the law was the intent of Congress to meet the recovery needs of individuals and communities following Hurricane Katrina.  Importantly, there were no definitions in the state plan or the application guidebook and applicants and those providing assistance were left to define both “primary residence” and “occupancy”.  There was an appeals process, however, and nothing in the plan excluded those whose grants were disallowed after review from the right to appeal the decision.

Mayor Warr and his wife have the resources to obtain legal counsel although they will have to resolve the dispute in court following indictment.  Others are not as fortunate.  Another married couple who recently faced almost identical charges to those in the Warr indictment was represented by a reluctant public defender who filed no defense; and, one of the two was sentenced to 15 months of confinement.

Fraud can not be tolerated.  Neither can a federal court that leaks like a collander and gives rise to months of rumors.  The indictment filed against the Warrs on the 22nd of January superseded one filed on the 6th of November 2008 and sealed.

Now do you see it is the spirit, not the form of the that keeps justice alive?

6 thoughts on “Cookie Cutter Justice – USA v Warr”

  1. As we illustrated in our profile of Korbel v Lexington, the question of “residence” is fact and circumstance based. The notion that “occupied” somehow controls the determination is not grounded in the law. I am aware of another gentleman who literally was in the process of moving in that received a grant – he never slept in the house a single evening. However on 8/29/05 the intent was to move in that case. Street talk is the house Mr and Mrs Warr were renovating on 8/29/05 was the only house they owned at the time.

    Did the Warr’s fill out their application completely and disclose everything to their case manager? If the answer is yes I really have a hard time with this indictment. I’ve been talking to people over two counties that largely feel the same way, especially those that lost their houses. I agree with that sentiment 100%.

    The insurance fraud counts were added to the sealed indictment. I can’t speak to the Warr’s insurance adjustment; those details will be trickling in soon via PACER.

    Excellent post Nowdy.


  2. Very good analysis. Mr. Warr has the right to apply for federal aid. If he was honest in his situation than all is fine. The program has to decide if Warr qualified. If the process is consistant for all than the program is OK. Many applied for aid post Katrina and were turned down. The guidelines for who qualified and who didn’t qualify were not the job of the applicant to determine. I think people should apply and the let the program determine if you qualifty. His application was merely a request for a determination of his qualification for the program. If they want to play the games of who is worthy of federal help post Katrina I can answer that in one word—Warr. He was in need of help and if the program was not able to help him than I think something is wrong with the program not Warr. He is a taxpayer who lost alot to Katrina. Congress allocated funds to a program which I think was designed to help people just like him. If the program didn’t include him than it is the program which should change.

  3. I don’t know the facts of the Warr case, but there are other cases where people were accused of fraud over residence issues.
    If you weren’t living there you were not displaced so you were not eligible for the $2000 and other FEMA assistance for living expenses based on that address. Same with Additional Living Expences from insurance. As for the Homeowner grant the question may be the language of the affidavit in the application. Did it require appicants to swear that this was their residence on August 29, 2005?

  4. In my own case I got the 2K because my house was destroyed but no additional money as I had another place to stay.

    I’ll see what I can find out about the homeowner declarations on the grant application.

    The inside joke would be if Lexington actually paid ALEs. In Korbel they paid nothing and fought that issue out in court.


  5. “Did it require appicants to swear that this was their residence on August 29, 2005?”

    Yes you did. They had a form if I remember correctly. They also wanted records from your electric company to make sure you had the service in your name. That was not a requirement per say but a supporting document for your claim.

    The program made it clear before you signed up that it was for owner occupied residences only as well.

    If your primary residence sustained flood damage from Hurricane Katrina, you may be eligible for assistance.

    1 You owned and occupied your home as of August 29, 2005.
    2 Your home was located in the Mississippi Counties of Harrison, Hancock, Jackson or Pearl River.
    3 Your home was your primary residence on August 29, 2005.
    4 You maintained homeowner

  6. Steve, Brian, everybody, just a brief comment for now to set the record straight:

    1. the application is 12 pages in a guidebook format that includes requirements. (linked in total in this post)

    2. “occupied” appears only 2x in the entire 12 page document – once in requirement #1 and the other in reference to “duplex”

    3. “occupied” was not defined anywhere that I saw.

    4. however, “duplex” was inaccurately defined as two-to-four-units – would that be a duduplex?

    5. “primary residence” appeared 23x and the construction of the application IMO indicates that is where you receive your mail.

    6. “primary residence” however was not defined anywhere I saw in the application.

    More later after I’ve finished catching up on today’s reading.

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