Sunday, July 11, 2004
Appeals to 9/11 Fund Had Lawmakers' Help
Earlier this year, Doug Copp was awarded $649,000, tax free, from the fund set up to compensate victims of 9/11. He says it's not enough. But it's doubtful he deserves anything. A Journal investigation found no evidence Copp did real rescue work in New York. Read the Journal's full four-day series here.
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
Doug Copp's appeal to the 9/11 fund came with strong letters from Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., also wrote on Copp's behalf.
Udall, the Democrat who represents New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, lobbied strongly on Copp's behalf. He wrote four letters to the commission describing Copp's dedication as a rescuer and the extent of Copp's injuries.
Copp met Udall at a town hall meeting in Edgewood, near where Copp lived in a rented house off Frost Road, and told a Udall staffer of his work in New York, his litany of injuries and his frustration with getting redress from the victim fund.
When the fund initially doubted Copp worked at the World Trade Center site and then told Copp it would give him $284,436, Udall helped him appeal for more money.
"I ask that Doug be adequately compensated for the life-changing injuries that he suffered during the course of his most courageous work at Ground Zero," Udall wrote in a letter to Kenneth Feinberg, who approved Copp's monetary award. "I remind you that Congress' creation of the Victim Compensation Fund provided our nation with the opportunity to fairly compensate the bravest of individuals such as Doug, who placed themselves in harm's way time and time again to rescue and save the lives of others."
Udall has now asked the Department of Justice to investigate Copp's claim.
"If these allegations are confirmed, they are deeply troubling," Udall said. "It would seem that a number of well-intentioned New Mexicans were ensnared in a web of deception."
Charles K. Purcell, an attorney with the Rodey law firm, took over Copp's case before the fund had decided Copp qualified for compensation but after the evidence on the qualification issue had been submitted.
Purcell said his role was limited to establishing the evidence of Copp's damages and submitting that evidence to the fund, appealing the fund's preliminary award and representing Copp at the hearing.
"I fully believed that Doug had been present at ground zero, had been performing rescue work there and had been seriously injured in the process all within the time frame described by the fund's regulations," Purcell said. "I never would have represented him otherwise. I'm not sure what to make of the information turned up by the Journal's investigation but I want to take a very hard look at it before concluding Congressman Udall, the fund and I were all mistaken."
A spokesman for Wilson, who was instrumental in securing flight clearance for Copp's trip to New York, said Wilson helps thousands of New Mexicans each year.
"Most people seek assistance in good faith and the congresswoman helps them in good faith," he said. "To learn otherwise in this instance is disappointing, but does not change Congresswoman Wilson's commitment to help people in New Mexico."
Bingaman said helping constituents is an important part of his job and that he counts on them to tell the truth.
"It is only on rare occasions that a constituent approaches my office with insincere motives, and it is difficult if not impossible for us to know in advance when this has been the case," Bingaman said. "It is very unfortunate when that happens because it takes time and effort away from my ability to work on behalf of New Mexicans with real concerns."
Gov. Bill Richardson took a pass on helping Copp. His office listened to Copp's complaints and decided against intervening, Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. That has not stopped Copp from saying Richardson was acting on his behalf.
Journal publisher T.H. Lang, who flew Copp to New York, said he was shocked to learn Copp had been compensated as a first responder.
"I didn't see or hear anything that led me to believe he did any kind of real rescue work or was doing anything other than making a movie," Lang said.
Feinberg said he is bound by confidentiality rules from speaking about Copp's claim.
Leslie Linthicum can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.