Katrina Victims, Military Personnel Sell Rations Online

Feb. 14, 2006 — -- Emergency rations paid for by taxpayers and distributed to Hurricane Katrina victims and military personnel to sustain them in their hour of need are being sold on eBay, according to a government report.

A Government Accountability Office report released yesterday found that government-issued Meals Ready-to-Eat are being sold for profit on that site, and that at least some of the MREs were diverted from hurricane-relief efforts.

Today ABC News found 83 military ration items on sale on eBay when searching for "Ready-to-Eat Meals" -- almost all of them government rations and at least 14 of them from sellers claiming to be Katrina victims.

Prices for the items range from 99 cents -- the opening bid for an unopened pack of chicken stew -- to $69 for a case of mixed meals. A case contains 12 meals and is sold by the government for $86.98, an employee with the Defense Logistics Agency told the ABC News' law and justice unit. Meals being sold on eBay include cheese tortellini, beef enchiladas and sloppy Joes.

'Outrageous'

Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, said the online sale of government rations is an outrage. "It is absolutely outrageous that people are going to exploit a national disaster to make a buck. It's food that could have gone to other volunteers or victims who were in bad shape and in need of those products," he said.

Among the eight sellers the GAO investigated, two are Katrina victims and five are military servicemen. The report states that "if MREs are sold to the general public on eBay, then they represent a waste of taxpayer dollars and possible criminal activity." Six of the eight cases have been referred to the Department of Defense inspector general.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, the government body responsible for buying and distributing MREs, the meals have a shelf-life of three years or longer and are "designed to sustain an individual engaged in heavy activity."

On the one hand, the sale of these MREs can be seen as Katrina victims and others simply selling off what's left over in the pantry. On the other hand, it is potentially illegal for-profit manipulation of taxpayer-funded emergency relief supplies.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy told ABC News that since at least 2002, the DOD has requested that the site ban the sale of ready-to-eat military meals. The company continues to permit the sale of government-issued rations, saying that there is no specific law against selling military meals.

Its assertion that selling rations is not against the law is confirmed by the GAO report, but the agency adds "although no statues or regulations specifically prohibit the sale of MREs ... policy states that DOD regulations permit the sale of MREs to a limited number of organizations, including, among others, U.S. military organizations and federally funded activities."

"We ban the sale of expired MREs because we have an expired food policy," said Durzy. "We ban the sale of food heaters for safety reasons. But we won't keep someone who owns something legally to sell it on eBay. You can find millions of them in Army-Navy surplus stores around the country."

He added that there are relatively few government meals being sold on eBay compared with the 78 million listings the Web site hosts.

Lorraine Netzko of the Defense Logistics Agency told ABC News in a written statement that "MREs may be made available for use by victims of natural or man-made disasters" but that they are "not provided for commercial resale."

Click here for the full GAO report.

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