Hotel owners charged in fraud

Mon, 07/02/2007 - 8:33am
By: Ben Nelms

Owners of the Union City Comfort Inn during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been indicted in federal court on charges of mail fraud related to a scheme to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of more than $20,000 allocated for hurricane victims.

Since October 2005, Ramesh and Chirag Patel, who are father and son, respectively, owned and operated the Comfort Inn hotel located at 6800 Shannon Parkway in Union City, Georgia, according to U.S. Attorney David Nahmias. The Comfort Inn housed several Katrina evacuees in several pre-designated rooms. Once the evacuee checked in, the defendants submitted periodic requests for payment to FEMA for housing the evacuees, Nahmias said. FEMA paid the hotel by mailing checks.

An investigation into the requests for payment revealed, however, that the hotel had billed FEMA for guests who either did not stay at the hotel or had left the hotel and found a permanent residence. The rooms that were supposedly occupied by these evacuees were rented out to non-evacuee guests, or were occupied by the defendants’ family members, said Nahmias. Nevertheless, the defendants billed FEMA for those rooms.

“These defendants allegedly billed FEMA by claiming that Hurricane Katrina evacuees stayed at their hotel on certain nights, when in fact they did not stay at their hotel,” Nahmias said. “The defendants took advantage of the chaos created by Hurricane Katrina and bilked the taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for emergency housing. Such conduct simply will not be tolerated.”

In September 2005, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales created the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, designed to deter, investigate and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes such as charity fraud, identity theft, procurement fraud and insurance fraud. The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division, includes members from the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Postal Inspector’s Office and the Executive Office of United States Attorneys, among others.

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Submitted by CeciKay on Tue, 07/03/2007 - 1:21pm.

I was working for the Comfort Inn when the Ramesh and Chirag Patel bought the hotel. At first, they appeared to have positive plans for the hotel. They began making needed renovations and installing necessary safety equipment. I worked for the hotel for over a year prior to the takeover. I remained loyal to the company through two different robberies and unchanging pay. Immediately after the takeover, the Patels increased my workload and wanted to decrease my pay. The occational laundry and maintenance I did during my shift to pass the down time was once appreciated by the previous GM and housekeepers: it was not in my job description to perorm these duties. After the Patels came, they expected that, every night, I complete all unfinished tasks of the day. Also, they refused to increase my wages and denied my request to adjust my schedule to better accomodate a change in my family's situation. Within one month's time after ownership and management of the hotel, morals and ethics forced me to tender my resignation. I heard many negative and offensive remarks about the hurricane victims that were staying at the hotel. Many guests did not receive daily housekeeping, especially extended stay guests. They limited the housekeeping of these rooms because their rates were lower than the standard rates for the same room types. As I titled this comment, I am not surprised at the allegations.

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