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LI Engineering Firm Raided Amid Attorney General Probe Into Sandy Insurance Payouts

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The New York Attorney General's office conducted a raid on a Long Island engineering firm Wednesday after reports the company cheated Superstorm Sandy victims out of money to fix their homes.

As WCBS 880's Sophia Hall reported, investigators from the attorney general's office walked into HiRise Engineering in Uniondale with a search warrant as authorities look into whether employees rewrote reports for flood insurance claims after Sandy in an effort to cheat homeowners out of money to fix damage from the storm.

LI Engineering Firm Raided Amid Attorney General Probe Into Sandy Insurance Payouts

Investigators were seen removing at least 20 boxes from the building, 1010 WINS' Holli Haerr reported.

The company was one of several firms hired after Sandy to investigate damage to buildings insured through FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA is undertaking its own investigation into claims from a growing number of victims who say companies on Long Island conspired to reduce payouts after the storm.

Last year, FEMA issued a series of reforms to ensure claims are not underpaid.

The attorney general's office confirmed the raid, saying it was part of a criminal investigation.

HiRise has also been accused in civil lawsuits of submitting bogus inspection reports on homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

"The little bit that people are hoping for is that they would get something from their insurance companies, and they didn't even get that," Brooklyn attorney Mitchell Shpelfogel told Haerr.

Shpelfogel said information from the criminal case could help his clients.

"We're gonna know more and eventually, we hope that the people are going to get the money they deserve," he said.

Much of the evidence in the HiRise cases has revolved around a small amount of work done for the firm by one Brooklyn engineer, Harold Weinberg.

Documents made public in the lawsuits show supervisors at HiRise repeatedly clashed with Weinberg over quality of his work, chiding him for turning in "very vague and ambiguous'' reports that were improperly formatted, lacked specifics or didn't address the key issue of whether damage was due to flooding or something else.

Nearly all of Weinberg's reports were changed after he turned them in. In some cases, reports that were missing key information were rewritten with much more authoritative findings, or reorganized in a way that made them easier to read. In other cases, his conclusions were discarded entirely.

LI Engineering Firm Raided Amid Attorney General Probe Into Sandy Insurance Payouts

In one report, dated Jan. 16, 2013, Weinberg wrote the foundation walls of a small home in Brooklyn's Gerritsen Beach section had been "damaged extensively'' by the storm surge. He included photographs of crumbling masonry blocks in the crawl space. But the final version turned in by HiRise said "no structural damage'' was caused by the storm. It said the foundation blocks had deteriorated over time.

In several reports, Weinberg's signature appears to have been cut from the original draft and clumsily pasted into the final version. Weinberg has submitted an affidavit in the civil cases saying that his signature was forged.

HiRise officials have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said any changes were in line with professional standards.

"HiRise has a 15-year history of ethical business practices and supports FEMA's initiative to resolve'' all outstanding Sandy claims, President and CEO Joe Celentano said in a statement. "We are cooperating to the fullest extent possible with all parties in an effort to address and resolve the issues that have been raised.''

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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