The government is looking into whether eBay sellers in Gulf Coast states are trying to profit from military foodstuffs handed out for free following hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
Representatives for eBay, the online auctioneer company, say it is impossible to prove that any of the meals were meant for hurricane victims. They note that MREs can be bought in camping stores and Army-Navy surplus outlets.
But at least some of the MREs advertised on the Web site are being sold from Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and other Gulf states, and are individually packaged with a disclaimer that clearly notes: "U.S. Government property Commercial resale is unlawful."
"If it's true, that's pretty reprehensible," said Cheryl Guidry Tyiska, deputy director of the National Organization of Victim Assistance. "There are a lot of pretty hungry people down there who could use the food for free."
E-mails sent by The Associated Press to eBay's MRE sellers in Gulf Coast states went unanswered.
The Homeland Security Department's inspector general has asked investigators to examine the suspicious MREs on eBay, spokeswoman Tamara Faulkner said. In the past, the Pentagon has complained about MRE sales on eBay, Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman Marcia Klein said. The agency has not decided whether to pursue the current eBay sales, though officials are considering all avenues, she said.
Told of the eBay sales, the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, said he "will not tolerate any type of fraud, and we will pursue it to the fullest extent." FEMA distributed millions of MREs to hurricane victims over the past two months.
eBay spokesman Hani Durzy said the San Jose, California-based company has not received any complaints from government or law enforcement officials about MRE sales in the wake of the recent storms.
eBay does prohibit the selling of expired MREs that are not advertised as a collector's item, Durzy said. Items that would violate the law if sold through eBay are removed from the site, he said, reported AP.