Floridian indicted in Internet fraud for 'Katrina aid'
Authorities say a Florida man's pleas touched 48 people for $40,000 but the money never left his account.
Published October 4, 2005
MIAMI - The day after Hurricane Katrina struck, Gary S. Kraser opened a Web site to seek donations to help fly aid to storm victims.
In a posting that day, the South Florida man wrote that as he flew over the area, he saw people on roofs waving for help, dogs being electrocuted as they swam into power lines and bodies floating in the water.
"I'm crying and hugging my dog next to me now," he wrote, according to authorities. "I will hear these screams the rest of my life."
The next day he wrote that he flew a 7-month-old girl out of the hurricane area for a transplant and that he had "tipped wings" as he flew over Air Force One, the president's plane.
Prosecutors say Kraser made no such flights. He "didn't even have a pilot's license," U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said Monday.
Acosta announced a federal indictment of the Aventura man on four counts of wire fraud for allegedly claiming the donations he sought would help pay for fuel to fly supplies to Katrina victims.
Prosecutors said 48 people from around the world donated almost $40,000 to Kraser's Web site, and the money went into his bank account.
Acosta said the indictment is the first by the federal government for Internet fraud stemming from Katrina.
Acosta said most of the money has been returned, but did not give further details.
Prosecutors said Kraser opened the Web site on Aug. 30, a day after the Category 4 storm destroyed parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Authorities received a complaint on Sept. 2 about the site and an FBI Internet fraud task force for Hurricane Katrina followed up with an investigation.
Speaking on the telephone with one woman, Kraser told her he was in the cockpit of an airplane about to take off for Louisiana, an FBI search warrant said.
After being interrupted by what appeared to be sounds from air traffic control, Kraser told her this would be his last flight unless more money was donated, according to the warrant.
Kraser told investigators the airplane sounds came from his computer, the warrant said.
Kraser had his first appearance in federal court Monday and will return for a detention hearing Thursday.