“Study Finds Huge Fraud in the Wake of Hurricanes,” read the headline of a New York Times article a couple of weeks ago, which at the time made me wonder…did they really need a study to tell them that? I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it’s tough not to for someone like me who grew up in Katrina ravaged New Aw’lins.

I love the place, but “Fraud” may as well be its middle name, as in New Fraud Aw’lins. Corruption is so ingrained as to be interwoven in its fabric.

Most Americans thinking of corruption probably imagine clandestine smoke filled rooms of politicians, or company boardrooms filled with sleazy corporate types where cheating is not open for debate but forms a pattern of daily business.

And sure enough, some of that goes on. It has been decades since I’ve lived there, but my folks still do and rare is my visit to see them that some chicanery is not being played out on the front page of New Orleans’ daily newspaper.

In one recent visit, someone had just noticed that the guy in charge of insurance for a local governmental entity lived in a house that would suggest his salary was many times what it actually was. It turned out he was taking kickbacks.

A retailer in another city I once met grew angry when he learned I was from New Orleans. He took it out on me because he had tried to open a store there but couldn’t afford to by the time he paid off all the city inspectors.

But these type incidents are not what make the city unique in this regard.

What makes it different is the fact so many normal, everyday Crescent City residents appear to admire such shenanigans. They do so because they know if they had the opportunity they would do the same thing, except smarter so as not to get caught. When Hurricane Katrina came rumbling through, some saw an opportunity.

According to the study, $1.4 billion in government disaster aid to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, nearly a quarter of the total, went to bogus or undeserving victims. Emergency aid was used to pay for football tickets, a bill at a Hooters restaurant, a $200 bottle of Dom Perignon, “Girls Gone Wild” videos, and for one enterprising soul, an all-inclusive weeklong Caribbean vacation.

More than $5 million went to people who provided cemeteries or post office boxes as the addresses of their damaged property.

One person collected $139,000 using 13 different Social Security numbers.

In a way, this might all be amusing except for one thing. A society whose foundation is a reckless disregard for the rule of law can get along well enough when resources are plentiful and things are on an even keel.

But in the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, recovery efforts have a tough time gaining traction because trust between people and entities is not a given.

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