WASHINGTON (CN) — Insisting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is unwilling to correct its mishandling over 140,000 claims related to Hurricane Sandy, a D.C. law firm has brought a federal complaint to access public records on its efforts.
“FEMA has lied to its policyholders and to all taxpayers,” the complaint states, filed Tuesday in Washington by Weisbrod Matteis & Copley.
The law firm says it is one of many trying to pick up the pieces after massive litigation related to the 2012 storm “uncovered significant evidence of misconduct … that led to the improper denial or underpayment of many Sandy flood insurance claims.”
It took nationwide exposure on the news program “60 Minutes,” according to the complaint, for FEMA to create a Sandy claims-review process that would appease Congress and the public.
But Weisbrod Matteis & Copley says this new program too is rife with misconduct.
“SCR has become a boondoggle designed to overpay FEMA’s contractors while continuing deliberately to underpay homeowners,” the complaint states, using the abbreviation for Sandy claims review.
Weisbrod Matteis & Copley says it represents more than 1,200 Sandy victims, and that fewer than 150 of these individuals have resolved their claims, despite FEMA’s promise to resolve all SCR claims fairly in 90 days.
That was nearly two years ago. The complaint says FEMA’s misconduct has in the meantime resulted in “aggregated payments of more than $500 million to federal contractors while homeowners received less than $200 million during the same period.”
For over a year, the complaint says, FEMA has ignored Weisbrod Matteis & Copley’s request for SCR documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
Weisbrod Matteis & Copley seeks records on how FEMA reorganized the review process, the instructions and guidelines governing the review of insurance claims, and FEMA’s relationships with its SCR contractors.
The lawsuit accuses FEMA of retaining staff for the review process who were involved in the original, tainted adjustment of Sandy flood claims, and of making exorbitant payments to unqualified contractors with ties to FEMA officials to administer the SCR.
A passage in the complaint quotes Brad Kieserman, FEMA’s deputy associate director for federal insurance, acknowledging the claims underpayment on “60 Minutes.”
“I’m not gonna sit here and conceal the fact that it happened,” Kieserman said. “’Cause in the last three weeks, I’ve seen evidence of it.”
Kieserman heads the National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA.
Officials at FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit seeks expedited consideration of its case, an order for FEMA to produce the requested documents, and attorneys’ fees.
The firm is represented in house by partner August Matteis.
“This is not the first time an organization has had to sue FEMA to get the agency to even acknowledge Freedom of Information Act requests about its handling of flood insurance claims,” Matteis said in a statement. “Our clients deserve a fair process through the claims review process and they’re not getting it.”