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BATON ROUGE, La.
U.S. Justice Department officials are urging the public to report any suspected fraud or corruption arising from the Gulf oil spill, saying they are launching a billboard campaign to publicize their hot line.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department's criminal division said Tuesday that they want to ensure the residents and businesses harmed by the spill get the dollars earmarked for them.
"We simply cannot and will not allow unscrupulous individuals to line their own pockets at the expense of the residents of the Gulf Coast who have suffered real losses," Breuer said, standing in the National Center for Disaster Fraud.
After the April 20 explosion on an offshore rig leased by BP PLC, the energy company set aside $20 billion to compensate those affected by the spill.
Housed on LSU's campus, the center was originally created by the Justice Department to combat fraud after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.
It includes representatives from the FBI, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, postal inspector's office and other federal agencies. Calls to the fraud hot line at 1-877-623-3423 are screened there, and any meriting attention are referred to investigative agencies.
Complaints also can be e-mailed to disaster(at)leo.gov.
Breuer said the center has received "a couple of hundred complaints" already bit that doesn't mean they've all been referred for investigation.
To promote the anti-fraud effort, Letten said 150 electronic billboards -- with space donated by Lamar Advertising Co. -- will advertise ways to contact the disaster fraud center. A map released by Lamar showed the billboards will be posted around Louisiana and in Florida.