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Officials in San Diego warn scamsters: don't even think of ripping off stimulus dollars

When government money starts to flow, waste, fraud and corruption often follow right behind, a collection of local, state and federal officials said Monday in San Diego.

With that sad fact as a given, government at all levels is promising to closely monitor the spending of federal stimulus dollars.

In San Diego County, $1.04 billion is set to be spent on 189 projects under the federal government's program to revive the economy. In Imperial County, the figure is $44 million on 21 projects.

Based on past experience, officials are estimating that 7% to 10% could be lost to fraud and other illegalities. In the massive spending that followed Hurricane Katrina, the figure was 17%.

"My mission is very clear: to deter, detect and disclose any waste, fraud and abuse in the stimulus dollars coming to California," said Laura Chick, recently appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger as California inspector general.

Karen Hewitt, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, and San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, joining Chick and the others at the news conference, promised "zero tolerance for fraud in this area."

"Don't even think about messing with those dollars," Dumanis said.

A tip line has been established for citizens to report suspected malfeasance, (877) NO-BRIBE.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

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