List of criminal and civil actions is growing and Justice Department says there’s more to come.
This week the U.S. Department of Justice announced 718 enforcement actions, including criminal charges against 371 defendants, for alleged fraud offenses related to at least $836 million in pandemic financial programs.
“The Justice Department has now seized over $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that criminals had stolen and charged over 3,000 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a news release. “This latest action, involving over 300 defendants and over $830 million in alleged COVID-19 fraud, should send a clear message: The COVID-19 public health emergency may have ended, but the Justice Department’s work to identify and prosecute those who stole pandemic relief funds is far from over.”
DOJ Acting Director of COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Michael C. Galdo outlined a coordinated law enforcement action from May to July this year. Investigators launched criminal, civil, and forfeiture actions with assistance from more than 50 U.S. attorneys’ offices and more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).
So far 119 defendants pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, with more than $57 million in court-ordered restitution imposed. There were 117 civil matters filed during the sweep, 117 civil matters occurred during the sweep, with more than $10.4 million in judgments. Prosecutors worked with law enforcement to secure forfeiture of more than $231.4 million, according to DOJ.
The Justice Department said many cases stem from the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the two largest pandemic relief programs administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration. There has been bogus health care billing and phony claims for the Emergency Rental Assistance and the Internal Revenue Service Employee Retention Credit programs.
In continuing investigations, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced the launch of two COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Forces in Colorado and New Jersey. They follow the work of three strike forces that started in September last year in California, Florida, and Maryland.