Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced today the results of an exhaustive enforcement operation. This comes in the wake of trillions of dollars in pandemic relief designated to assist Americans and businesses during this unparalleled public health crisis.
The Justice Department has highlighted an alarming trend. As billions flowed in aid, unscrupulous individuals both within the U.S. and internationally exploited the crisis, leading to fraudulent claims in the hundreds of billions of dollars, recent data revealed.
In response, the Attorney General formed the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May 2021. The task force marshaled resources from various departments and the government at large. Their goal is to identify and prosecute these fraudsters and recover ill-gotten government funds.
This past summer, three interagency COVID Fraud Strike Forces stationed in Maryland, South Florida, and California collaborated with over 50 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. Their combined efforts led to a nationwide COVID fraud enforcement operation. The results are staggering. Over a three-month period, more than 700 enforcement actions were initiated, targeting over $830 million in fraudulent activities. From this, over $200 million has been successfully seized through criminal and civil forfeiture actions.
The breadth of fraudulent activities is vast. Monaco revealed enforcement actions against diverse offenders – from street gangs in Wisconsin exploiting unemployment schemes to fund illicit activities to international criminal rings based out of Nigeria and individuals in California defrauding the IRS for monumental sums.
Yet, Monaco stresses that the mission is far from completion. She expressed, “Our focus on recovering stolen funds won’t be thwarted by fraudsters who try to hide or spend those funds before being prosecuted. We will seek judicial orders requiring convicted defendants to pay back every stolen dollar – and we have 20 years to realize those recoveries.”
For small businesses, this signifies the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that relief funds reach legitimate entities genuinely affected by the pandemic. The message is clear: a rigorous system is in place to apprehend and prosecute those capitalizing on the nation’s vulnerability during the pandemic.
Further cementing their dedication to curbing fraud, Monaco announced the establishment of two new COVID Fraud Enforcement Strike Force teams, one each in Colorado and New Jersey. These additions aim to amplify their efforts in combating fraudulent activities surrounding pandemic relief funds.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco praised the teams’ dedication and asserted their continued effort to pursue fraudsters, emphasizing that their mission to protect the integrity of pandemic relief efforts remains paramount. She then handed over to Acting Director Galdo for further details on the enforcement sweep.
Small businesses should remain vigilant and ensure their transactions, especially those relating to pandemic relief funds, adhere strictly to the rules, as enforcement actions continue to intensify.
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