Katrina: Profit over People

In the coming days we're going to see more and more stories set around the pain and heartbreak that is Hurricane Katrina -- Two Years Later. More and more stories like the one we did on Rodney Freeman, which arrived in a most unusual way. Producer Michael Rey and I had just finished doing an interview about formaldehyde in FEMA trailers in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, when we stopped at a bar down the street for something cool to drink. Inside, around a horseshoe counter sat a group of local folks, a story on every stool.

Discouraged, despondent, desperate, you name it, they felt it. One local contractor proved a bit more emotional than most, angered over a friend and customer, a man named Freeman, who had all this insurance coverage and still couldn't get his house repaired.
"Where does Freeman live?" I asked.
"About 50 miles from here," said the contractor.
Michael and I took a good long look at each other.
"Let's go," we said.
It was hard to believe the devastation we encountered riding down

Freeman's street in Oceans Springs, Mississippi, even harder to believe the state of his once-proud three-bedroom home. I won't repeat our story here. Watch it. Tell me if you don't feel for Freeman. Don't wonder whether we've become a country built on profit, not people.

I spoke with both Rodney and his attorney Danielle Brewer today. Danielle is something of a saint, especially for an attorney, having poured an enormous amount of energy into Rodney's case over the last 14 months, 'the worst case,' she says, of all her Katrina clients. During the course of my reporting Danielle sent me a very detailed note outlining every single aspect of Rodney's battle with his insurance companies but that's only part of his story. To quote from Danielle's detailed note: "As if Rodney wasn't victimized enough by Hurricane Katrina, and then again by his insurance companies, now his own mortgage company has joined in…"

I won't name the company here, if only because I couldn't reach them for comment. But this week Rodney received a letter from them serving notice that his mortgage loan was presently in default due to non-payment. Payments, according to attorney Brewer, the mortgage company had specifically told Freeman not to make pending the repair of his home. Now the company was threatening foreclosure if Rodney didn't immediately "cure the default" to the tune of $17,530.17.

As one might imagine Rodney was beside himself. "The only thing I can do is go to work and take care of my [13-year-old] son," he told me. "My body and mind just ain't right these days."

And you know the worst part? Not the fact the mortgage company was turning the screws for no good reason. More like this: the company was holding at least $37,142.63 of Rodney's insurance money in an escrow account. So if they really wanted their money so darn much, all they had to do was punch a button on a bank computer and transfer that amount out of escrow to cover the payments.
"Outrageous," said Brewer.
Others might say…unconscionable. Just another example of the pain and heartbreak of Katrina, of profit over people.