- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It was a modern-day treasure map — a computerized diagram of neighborhoods with codes marking the addresses where National Guard soldiers came upon caches of goods taken by looters in the aftermath of Katrina.

“There’s probably still loot out there” hidden in various homes, Capt. Gregg McGowan said from his Oklahoma National Guard unit’s makeshift headquarters.

“We’re not going house-to-house looking for it, but if we find it, we secure it so police can check it.”

In the chaos that followed Katrina’s flooding, looters targeted everything from grocery stores to gun shops to trendy women’s clothing boutiques. Now that the city is mostly empty of civilians, military patrols making house-to-house checks for remaining residents or the dead are finding some of the hiding places for the stolen goods.

New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan said he intends to prosecute as many looters as he can. However, few arrests have been made thus far because authorities have been primarily concerned with reaching stranded residents, Mr. Jordan said.

The National Guardsmen recently thought they had caught a looter coming back into town to load his stash onto a moving truck. Inside his home, the soldiers found automobile parts stacked 8 feet high, a new off-road motorcycle and various electronics, including a video game system with a pawn shop ticket still attached.

But the man told the soldiers he had no idea where the goods came from and that someone else must have broken into his home and stashed them there after he evacuated. Skeptical, the soldiers detained him until police arrived, filled out a report and seized the goods. They took the man’s name and address, but did not arrest him.

“You could be technical and say, ‘I’m going to book him with possession of stolen property,’ but then you have to find out who the owner is, find out whether that person had permission to take that property,” New Orleans police Capt. Marlon Defillo said.

“So what we’re generally doing is seizing the goods as found property and writing a report.”

That way, he explained, authorities can return the goods if they figure out where they came from — rather than holding them as evidence pending the resolution of often drawn-out criminal cases.

In other homes, Capt. McGowan’s unit found automatic teller machines that had been broken open and emptied of cash and bags of ammunition still packaged in 500-round bundles, not the individual boxes of 20 rounds usually sold over the counter.

New Orleans police are storing seized loot in a makeshift warehouse near the city’s train station, Mr. Defillo said. He declined to provide details on how much goods had been found, how many businesses or homes had been looted, or whether authorities had a long-term plan to track down some of the thieves.

“We haven’t even had time to deal with that yet,” he said.


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