Federal Government

Federal initiative recovers over $836M in stolen COVID-19 relief funds, DOJ says

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The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the results of a coordinated, nationwide initiative that identified and prosecuted individuals who stole COVID-19 pandemic relief funds. Photo from Shutterstock.

From May through July, the U.S. Department of Justice led enforcement actions against 718 individuals for offenses involving more than $836 million in alleged COVID-19 fraud.

The DOJ on Wednesday announced the results of a coordinated, nationwide initiative that identified and prosecuted individuals who stole pandemic relief funds, which included the filing of federal criminal charges against 371 defendants. As a result, 119 pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial and more than $57 million in court-ordered restitution was imposed.

Sixty-three of the defendants had alleged connections to violent crime, with some accused of using pandemic relief funds to pay for a murder for hire, the DOJ said. Another 25 defendants allegedly had connections to transnational crime networks.

The DOJ also noted 117 civil matters resulted from its initiative, with more than $10.4 million in judgments. Prosecutors additionally worked with law enforcement to obtain more than $231.4 million in asset forfeiture.

Michael C. Galdo, the acting director of the DOJ’s COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement, said when announcing the initiative’s results its work is far from over.

“We know from our investigative partners that identifying those who committed pandemic relief fraud and recovering stolen funds is difficult work,” said Galdo, whose remarks are included in a press release. “But the Justice Department, including our strike forces, U.S. attorney’s offices and the Criminal and Civil Divisions, is committed to using our criminal, civil and forfeiture tools to hold these fraudsters accountable.”

Many cases in the enforcement action involved charges related to pandemic unemployment insurance benefits and fraud against two pandemic programs, the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Others related to pandemic health care billing fraud and fraud against the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and Internal Revenue Service’s Employee Retention Credit program.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the formation of two additional COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Forces. They will be led by the U.S. attorney’s offices for the District of Colorado and the District of New Jersey and join others previously launched in the Eastern and Central Districts of California, the Southern District of Florida and the District of Maryland.

“The law enforcement actions announced today reflect the Justice Department’s focus—working with our law enforcement partners nationwide—on bringing to justice those who stole from American businesses and families at a time of national emergency,” Monaco said in the press release. “The two new strike forces launched today will increase our reach as we continue to pursue fraudsters and recover taxpayer funds, no matter how long it takes.”

The Washington Post and Courthouse News Service have coverage.

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