AP Enterprise: 9/11 Thefts Not Prosecuted
Friday, June 16, 2006; 4:20 PM
NEW YORK -- A disaster relief company that took supplies that were supposed to go to Sept. 11 rescuers at the World Trade Center escaped punishment after the government discovered its own employees had stolen artifacts from ground zero, once-secret federal documents show.
Kieger Enterprises (KEI) of Lino Lakes, Minn., managed a Long Island warehouse for the government that was filled with supplies donated by Americans for the rescue workers.
The FBI developed evidence from whistleblowers that the company had dispatched trucks to the warehouse and loaded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donated bottled water, clothes, tools and generators to be moved to Minnesota in a plot to sell some for profit, the records show.
Dan L'Allier, a Kieger supervisor at the time, told The Associated Press he witnessed 45 tons of the New York loot being unloaded in Minnesota at his company's headquarters. He and a colleague, Chris Christopherson, complained to a company executive but were ordered to keep quiet.
They went instead to the FBI. The two whistleblowers eventually lost their jobs, received death threats and were blackballed in the disaster relief industry. But they remained convinced their sacrifice was worth it to make sure justice was done.
They were wrong.
Federal prosecutors eventually charged KEI and some executives with fraud for overbilling the government in several disasters, but excluded the Sept. 11 thefts. The company has gone out of business.
As a result, most Americans were kept in the dark for years about the fate of their donated goods, even as new requests for charity emerged for disasters like Hurricane Katrina. And Christopherson and L'Allier were left disillusioned.
"I wouldn't open my mouth again for all the tea in China," L'Allier said. Added Christopherson, a 34-year-old father of two: "It's not worth blowing the whistle unless you don't have anything to lose."
The government ultimately gave the whistleblowers $30,000 each after expenses, their share in a civil settlement against KEI. They say the sum was hardly worth their trouble.
"We all experienced the death threats," L'Allier said. "We all experienced the phone ringing at three in the morning and no one being there. I'd come home and the house would be wide open."
Christopherson recalled receiving boxes of white T-shirts stolen from the Long Island warehouse, sent back to him after KEI had embossed a Sept. 11 logo on the front. He was instructed by his boss to sell them to firefighters, police and volunteers for $12 apiece. He refused.