- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The uncle of a Louisiana lawmaker won three no-bid contracts worth $108 million to provide temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, enraging rival businesses and prompting a state investigation.

A state agency is investigating because the lawmaker’s uncle did not have a Louisiana license to sell new trailer homes until well after the company provided the first ones to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA wants 125,000 campers and mobile homes for those who lost their homes in the Aug. 29 storm. The New Orleans-area motorcycle shop owned by state Rep. Gary Smith’s uncle received FEMA contracts to provide 6,400 trailers.

Trailer dealers were upset that Glen Smith’s motorcycle business did not have a license from the state Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission to sell new trailers until mid-October.

Glen Smith said he was able to secure the contracts because he has worked with the federal government for nearly four decades during disasters, removing debris, dredging rivers, and providing mobile housing after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

He said he already had a license to sell used trailers and was not aware he needed another one.

“We know what it takes to get them satisfied,” Glen Smith said. “They didn’t just walk up and give us a jackpot. It’s not like that.”

FEMA spokesman Larry Orluskie said he did not know the specifics of Glen Smith’s contracts or the licensing requirements.

“This is a contract that’s going to be looked at along with all the other contracts that are being scrutinized,” he said. “If there’s something inappropriate, it will be revealed.”

No-bid contracts awarded by FEMA for temporary housing in trailers and on cruise ships have been questioned by state and federal lawmakers and businesses that have complained of favoritism.

Critics of the government’s no-bid contracts have called them gifts to politically connected companies. FEMA said they were needed to speed recovery efforts. Federal auditors are looking into several deals.

David Gaffney, owner of Innovative RV in Baton Rouge, said he made three dozen calls to FEMA officials over several weeks trying to determine whether he could get a contract to sell trailers to the agency.

“I was screaming at them,” he said. “I’m a mile from the staging area and watched all these trailers roll by me.”

He was finally told he only could sell FEMA the 37 trailers that were already on his lot, unlike the deal Glen Smith received. Mr. Gaffney also said he could have supplied the trailers to the government at a lower price than Glen Smith offered.

Glen Smith said the contracts had nothing to do with his nephew, a state lawmaker since 1999. He said his nephew only handles legal work for the business and gets none of the profits.

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