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This Small Appalachian Town Flooded. But the Real Trouble Started When Disaster Aid Arrived.

Four city officials, including two mayors and the former police chief, have faced criminal charges for fraud and embezzlement.

by Joshua Hersh and Billie Brownstein
Aug 19 2019, 3:08pm

RICHWOOD, West Virginia — Three years after experiencing catastrophic flooding, the tiny Appalachian town of Richwood, West Virginia, has now been overrun by accusations of corruption.

Four city officials, including two mayors and the former police chief, have faced criminal charges for fraud and embezzlement. (The charges against the chief were recently dropped.) And the town’s handling of the nearly $3.1 million in disaster funds from FEMA was the subject of an 18-month audit by state regulators, which found ample evidence of wrongdoing.

Town leaders contest the auditor’s conclusions, and all of those charged with crimes maintain they’re innocent. But the real lesson of the saga, according to many of those involved, is that the process of navigating the federal bureaucracy is simply far too complicated for most small towns to follow. So complicated, in fact, that localities often have to hire expensive, private disaster consultants, just to navigate the process.

VICE News went to Richwood to see why town leaders say the real problems started when they should have ended: when the federal aid from FEMA arrived.

This segment originally aired August 15, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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environment
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Natural Disasters