After 6,000 hours, Steve Kanstoroom stopped counting how much time he has devoted to his investigation of the flood insurance program. But he hasn't stopped working.
Kanstoroom has redoubled his efforts since a federal lawsuit was filed last month accusing top officials of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency of conspiring to defraud Maryland residents with flood insurance after their homes were damaged by Hurricane Isabel nearly two years ago.
He's now working 12-hour days, with a full-time assistant, to coordinate with attorneys from several states -- including Virginia, North Carolina and Florida -- in an effort to support litigation claiming that the National Flood Insurance Program paid out less money than people were entitled to under their policies. Kanstoroom has testified before Congress, written a report on the flood insurance problems at the request of Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and presented a 10-point plan for change to top flood insurance program officials. All from a guy who was ready to relax.
"I had retired before Isabel and really thought, 'Now I'll be able to spend more time with my family,' " he said.
Kanstoroom, 47, who lives in Talbot County with his wife and two young daughters, was thrust into the fray after his waterfront home was flooded. He soon believed his elderly neighbors, who moved in with Kanstoroom as the weather turned colder, had been shorted tens of thousands of dollars when they went to collect on their flood insurance.
"I thought something must be dreadfully wrong," said Kanstoroom, a former pattern recognition and fraud detection consultant. He began to dig and came to believe that FEMA had been using the wrong cost book for determining insurance losses, according to his congressional testimony. He began shopping his findings around to legislators but at first found little support.
A turning point, he said, came when then-Federal Insurance Administrator Anthony S. Lowe told the Baltimore Sun that Kanstoroom understood the complex web of private insurance companies and adjusting firms in ways many in the federal flood program couldn't comprehend.
"Now I'm recognized as an expert, and I've got whistle-blowers calling from across the country saying, 'We want to help you,' " he said.
Kanstoroom talks with a hushed urgency. When he says "long story short," it never is -- information will spill out with startling bluntness. For him, after two years of slogging through documents and spreadsheets, the chase is still thrilling.
"It's big," he said Friday, describing the latest angle of his investigation. "It's big big. It's much bigger than just flood insurance. I've got goose bumps."
-- Joshua Partlow