HOUSTON – We had questions for FEMA.
They had very few answers.
An on-the-record phone call Friday morning was scheduled to discuss the sale of manufactured housing units.
In a report on Feb. 6., Channel 2 Investigates revealed Donnie Gannaway bought a never-lived-in unit, paying more than 50 percent less than what the government paid.
"I think I got this trailer for $19,244," Gannaway said.
The feds reimbursed the state an average of $45,000 per unit, according to the General Land Office. FEMA admits they purchase units directly that run up to $70,000.
We found several 2017 and 2018 models, some with new furniture still in plastic, all being auctioned off by the government. Opening bids in some cases started at $100. FEMA failed to confirm to Channel 2 Investigates which units were never lived in following our initial request earlier this month. They are still attempting to track down those answers.
During Friday’s phone call, Channel 2 Investigates asked, "How much sense does it make to actually sell a manufactured housing unit that no one ever lived in before at a fraction of the price that the government paid for?" After our question, we heard a FEMA spokeswoman say, “Mute it now."
The conference system eventually informed KPRC investigative reporter Mario Diaz, "Your line is now muted."
A FEMA official did respond, "Sir, we do not sell brand-new units."
However, in our initial report, we showed a never-lived-in trailer purchased off the government’s auction site. Channel 2 Investigates was able to confirm the unit was never lived in. We also visited the trailer days after the auction, where we found mattresses in plastic and never-used furniture and appliances.
After being put on mute during the call, the operator stated, "And ladies and gentleman, as a reminder, that is star-1 to signal for a question at this time."
So as informed we hit the proper combination on our phone to get back into the rotation.
After a few more seconds of waiting, the operator said: "And next question, go ahead … Your line is now open.”
Channel 2 Investigates followed up with the same question, "How much sense does it make to have a manufactured home that was never lived in sold at a massive discount?
FEMA Program Manager Abraham “Abe” Gunn said: “That is not true. The house was installed, and it was licensed in.”
We informed him no one ever lived in it, and Gunn replied, “And then it was officially deactivated.”
We reminded him that it might have been deployed, but no one ever lived in it.
Suddenly, we were put on mute again.
We attempted to ask more questions per the conference procedures, but it it appeared we were completely muted by FEMA. The operator stated, “It does appear we have no further questions.”
We once again hit the proper combination in an attempt to get back into the rotation, but FEMA ended the conference call.
One key takeaway?
Our first question was: “You’re doing this phone call today. When can we do to a sit down with you guys for an on-camera interview, considering that this phone call today is addressing an issue that we first reported on February the 6th?"
A FEMA spokeswoman responded: “Yes, we understand that, Mario. We have received a lot of questions from reporters, so this is a pen-and-pad with multiple people, so we’ll talk offline for individual interviews.”
We emailed FEMA to talk offline. They have yet to get back to us.