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Bogus mercy flights

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A Florida man has been arrested and charged with four counts of fraud after receiving $40,000 (£22,700) in donations to fund mercy flights to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But Gary Kraser never made those flights even though he told visitors to his AirKatrina.com web site harrowing accounts of trips he had made.

According to his site, he was flying in medical supplies to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina which hit Louisiana in August. He also said he was evacuating children and others who were in a critical medical condition.

But he needed cash to help fund the flights and told donors that "every dollar, every nickel, (would) go directly into the tanks of these pilots planes on their mission of mercy" and managed to raise $40,000 in just two days.

In one posting on his website he wrote: "I am shaking as I write this, as I just arrived home, and just now allowed my body and mind to accept what I saw tonight... I am crying as I read this... I saw people on their roofs, that had used axes more than likely to cut through the roof, waving at us, as they thought we were Air Rescue... I saw dogs wrapped in electrical lines still alive and sparks flying from their bodies being electrocuted, as well as some people dead already.

If I had a helicopter, I would be there now rather than back in FL... I'm so sorry I couldn't do more... I'm crying and hugging my dog next to me now... I will hear these screams for the rest of my life..."

And in another he said: "I'm flying full loads out, and offering the empty plane on the outbound for Air Ambulance. If we didn't have the plane, I don't think the little baby would have survived... She is undergoing transplant surgery at this moment I am writing... 7 mos old, and smiling the whole way, as if she knew..."

According to the FBI, this is the first Hurricane Katrina Internet charity fraud case brought by the Department of Justice.

Said US Attorney Alexander Acosta in a statement: "It is simply unconscionable and intolerable that anyone would seek a personal financial benefit from the horrible human tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina." ®

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