(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Sen. David Vitter today called on Gulf Coast Claims Facility administrator Ken Feinberg to immediately address the concerns of a growing number of Louisianians who have not received timely and equitable treatment in the claims process resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last April. Vitter’s letter included a list of specific Louisianians to whom Feinberg and GCCF have broken promises to follow through promptly on their claims.
“Ken Feinberg has unfortunately shown a pattern of making flimsy promises to the Louisianians who need his help, and he’s compounded this by offering evasive and incomplete responses to my direct inquiries about his handling of the claims process,” said Vitter. “My office has uncovered a number of small business owners and other Louisiana residents who are being subjected to bureaucratic hell as they try to navigate this claims process and deal with Mr. Feinberg’s office.”
Vitter included with the letter a list of several specific Louisianians identified by Vitter’s staff who have not received appropriate assistance from Feinberg’s office despite Feinberg’s public assurances to them in town hall meetings that he would follow up on their cases.
These people were highlighted because they spoke directly with Feinberg at meetings and were still ignored, but the list does not account for other claimants who have not had the opportunity to meet with Feinberg face to face, or who did not speak up at meetings.
“If my office was able discover your empty promises in Louisiana, one can only guess the extent of your hollow rhetoric throughout the Gulf,” Vitter wrote.
Vitter last month urged Feinberg to donate a portion of his firm’s fees to the Friends of the Fishermen Fund for impacted fishermen or a similar Louisiana based organization as a gesture of good will for his firm’s sloppy handling of Louisianians’ claims.
The full text of Vitter’s latest letter to Feinberg follows this release. A few of the Louisianians who have experienced difficulty due to Feinberg’s handling of the claims process are:
· Sylvia Fradella, Houma
Sylvia’s pay was reduced significantly when the oil spill occurred due to her employer’s financial situation. Nearly all of her coworkers received a six month emergency payment. She did not. She was originally told that she was approved by GCCF officials only to be denied in December. Since she could no longer live on the reduced salary and couldn’t receive GCCF funding, she has resigned in order to try and find other employment.
“I have yet to receive anything, not even a letter. I went to every meeting and even spoke with him personally. He said he would look into it. He said he would take care of it and I have never heard from him. I have yet to receive a penny. There is no equity in this whole process,” said Sylvia.
· Diane Poche, Lafitte
Diane and her husband are shrimpers. He filed an individual claim and, although he did receive a payment, he and Diane feel as if it was very insufficient given their losses. Diane then, on the advice of her attorney, filed an individual claim and was denied. Diane has spoken to Feinberg at 2 town hall meetings – in Houma in September and Lafitte in January – only to receive empty promises that her claim would be addressed quickly.
“The man has no words as far as I’m concerned because everything that comes out of his mouth is false. He never follows through,” said Diane.
· Annette & Sarah Rigaud, Grand Isle
The Rigauds were told by Feinberg at his town hall meeting in Grand Isle that they would get a call back with more information about the status of their claim. A week later, a Feinberg staff member called back. The staffer told her they didn’t have any details and only called at Feinberg’s request. The Rigauds still haven’t heard anything and are now in foreclosure and barely staying afloat with their restaurant.
“We are just so tired of getting the run around. Mr. Feinberg told us at his Grand Isle town hall meeting that we’d get a call back with more information, but all we got was a member of his staff who called back and told us he didn’t have any details. He basically said he only called because Mr. Feinberg requested him to. We still haven’t heard anything and are now in foreclosure and barely staying afloat with our restaurant. We don’t want any more presentations or platitudes from Mr. Feinberg, we want results,” said the Rigauds.
· Trudy Luke, Houma
· Melissa Lacoste and Mike Dehart, Theriot
Trudy is the owner of Luke’s Seafood. Melissa and Mike own Captain Blair Seafood. During a meeting last November involving Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet and approximately 15 other business owners, Feinberg promised Trudy, Melissa and Mike that a member of his staff would follow up on their cases, but to date they have not even received a phone call.
· Todd John, Houma
Todd is the owner of Bayou Gulf Seafood. His claim was originally denied by BP. When Feinberg took over, Todd only got 1% of his original claim. He estimated this would cover one week of his losses, but GCCF said it was supposed to cover six months. He has sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost oyster revenue since the spill. Feinberg promised that he would have someone call him. GCCF called, but they couldn’t help him. He has gone to the GCCF office in Houma; however, they have no authority to answer his questions.
He recently sent in a projection of his 5 year losses from his CPA. He got a letter that said that his claim will be decided sometime in February—but that deadline came and went. Sen. Vitter’s office sent in an inquiry and GCCF said that Todd needs to submit more information again.
Below is the full text of Vitter’s letter to Feinberg.
March 24, 2011
VIA EMAIL AND OVERNIGHT DELIVERY
IMMEDIATE ATTENTION REQUESTED
Feinberg Rozen, LLP
The Willard Office Building
1455 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004-1008
Dear Mr. Feinberg:
I write this letter in follow-up to my February 17 letter and your subsequent response on February 25. During the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee hearing on January 27, I asked you to provide me as follow-up written case updates regarding the Louisiana citizens who stood up during your recent four Louisiana town hall meetings, in public and in front of television cameras, and said that their applications to you had been ignored or mishandled. You consistently told all of these applicants at the meetings that you would look into their cases and follow up with them. But as I explained in the hearing, in the spot checking I was able to do, three out of three had not been contacted by your office in any way in the weeks following town halls.
When I made this reasonable, basic request for information at the hearing, you immediately agreed to provide. However, you did not. (Again, a clear promise; no follow-up.)
As a result, my staff repeated the specific request by email to you on January 31. You responded by letter dated February 7, reversing your previous position, citing the confidentiality of the claims, and refusing to provide case updates.
When I expressed in a letter dated February 17 my sincere disappointment, and provided you an alternative means to ensure confidentiality, you responded in a letter dated February 25 providing the status of 12 claimants that you had identified as having stood up and identified themselves.
Unfortunately, 12 claimants fails to represent the complete universe of Louisianians that you promised publicly to assist and personally provide status updates. After further review, not only is your February 25 response incomplete, but it makes clear that as I stated in my February 17 letter: “I can only conclude that these town hall meetings were such a pure public relations exercise on your part—so devoid of substance and follow-up—that you and your staff didn’t even procure the names and contact information of the claimants you so earnestly promised to help.”
Indeed, my staff was able to procure a list of individuals that you promised publicly to help, but failed to commit resources to or identify in your February 25 response to my office. I have attached this list of individuals as an addendum to this letter. I should also point out that this is not a complete list. My office had contact with other individuals to whom you made similar promises; however, because of your lack of response, they have hired forensic accounting firms to assist with their claims and were hesitant to release their information on the advice of these firms. If my office was able discover your empty promises in Louisiana, one can only guess the extent of your hollow rhetoric throughout the Gulf.
I should stress that this list of people is only a snapshot of the larger problem since these Louisianians spoke with you face to face at your public meetings and were still ignored.
As stated in my February 17 letter, as an effort towards goodwill, and in light of much of your public promises of follow-up being a sham, I suggest the following: Since the town hall meetings I identified was about 3 days of your work that month---12%*--I would ask you to remit 12% of you and your firm’s monthly compensation for claim work to the Friends of the Fishermen Fund for impacted fishermen, or a similar Louisiana based organization dedicated to helping our fishermen rebound. At your compensation rate of $850,000 per month, that would be $102,000. To be clear, this payment would be from you and your firm, not the compensation fund.
I would appreciate your not making empty promises to Louisianians, then making an empty promise to me before a committee hearing in the United States Senate, then hiding behind confidentiality, then providing an incomplete list to my office, all in an effort to hide behind the fact that your personal promises at the town hall meetings were meaningless.