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REPORT: FEMA AID PROBLEMS CONTINUE

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1-billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments it distributed after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a new report by congressional investigators says.

At the same time, the agency continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17-million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers, the Government Accountability Office report says.

The auditors' findings are to be released today.

The findings demonstrate how the agency has remained open to criticism from advocates for evacuees for simultaneously being too stingy with people who have real needs, and to criticism from auditors for being too willing to give taxpayer dollars to scam artists and cheats.

COLUMBIA, S.C.

Mom calls police over son's present peeking

A fed-up mother had her 12-year-old son arrested for allegedly rummaging through his great-grandmother's things and playing with his Christmas present early.

Brandi Ervin called police Sunday after learning her son had disobeyed orders and repeatedly taken a Game Boy from its hiding place. He was arrested on petty larceny charges, taken to the police station in handcuffs and held until his mother picked him up. Police did not release his name.

Elsewhere ...

PINEVILLE, MO.: Family members of a caregiver who was among 10 people killed in a group home fire in southwest Missouri last month filed a lawsuit against the home's owner and the group that operated it, claiming both were negligent.

GEORGETOWN, COLO.: Prosecutors have filed human smuggling and other charges against Jose Franco-Rodriguez, 23, who is accused of driving a minivan that careened off a snowy highway last month with 14 passengers inside, killing four.

NEW YORK: The Board of Health went ahead Tuesday with a policy revision that for the first time will allow people who have undergone sex-change surgery to list their new sex on their birth documents. However, it backed off from allowing New Yorkers to switch the sex without undergoing the surgery, saying it needed further study.

MERLIN, ORE.: Searchers found Tuesday a pair of pants matching the description of one of two pairs worn by a missing man who struck out for help after his family's car got stuck in the snow. Rescuers hoped it was a signal from 35-year-old James Kim of San Francisco, but a false sense of warmth is a sign of severe hypothermia, said Dr. Jon Jui of Oregon Health and Science University. Kim's wife and two daughters were found Monday after being lost for more than a week.

ATLANTA: A Georgia state senator's Colombia-born wife who went into hiding rather than face deportation turned herself in on Tuesday. A judge reopened her case and released Sascha Herrera, 28, who is married to Democratic state Sen. Curt Thompson. Her lawyer says Herrera was duped by a man handling her immigration requests and that she never received notices to appear before a judge, which led to a deportation order.

MILWAUKEE: A 14-year-old boy was sentenced to a year in a juvenile correctional facility Tuesday in the case of an 11-year-old girl who police say was coached by an older girl as she was sexually assaulted by at least 14 males. The boy was the first to be sentenced of 14 people charged in the case.

NEW YORK: Trent Benefield, one of two men wounded in a hail of 50 police bullets that killed their unarmed friend hours before his wedding on Nov. 25, was released from a hospital Tuesday.

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