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Archdiocese finalizes deal to pay $1 million over false Katrina claims

The Department of Justice said that the Archdiocese knowingly submitted the false claims for repair or replacement of certain facilities damaged in the 2005 storm.

NEW ORLEANS — The Archdiocese of New Orleans has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle claims that it submitted false claims for payment to FEMA after Hurricane Katrina.

A statement from the Department of Justice said that the Archdiocese knowingly submitted the false claims for repair or replacement of certain facilities that were damaged during the storm in 2005.

“FEMA offers critical financial support when natural disasters strike,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that these taxpayer funds are properly spent to help disaster victims rebuild their communities.” 

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The agreement calls for paying $1.05 million over two years to the U.S. Department of Justice, with the whistleblower and his lawyers getting as much as $262,500 of that.

The archdiocese “expressly denies” the allegations by Robert Romero, a former project manager at the California-based engineering firm AECOM, court papers noted.

Neither an archdiocese spokeswoman nor its lawyer immediately responded to emailed requests for comment on Thursday.

The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2020 after being sued by a number of people who say they were sexually abused by priests.

The whistleblower suit filed in 2016 — 11 years after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans — claimed that the church got $46 million more than it should have from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damages at a church-run school and an assisted living center.

Romero accused a co-worker of helping the archdiocese and two private universities defraud the government out of more than $100 million.