The US Department of Justice revealed Thursday that it had found a wide variety of fraud and illegal activity using more than $8 billion in federal COVID-19 financing.
The department has responded by appointing Kevin Chambers, formerly an associate deputy attorney general, as the top prosecutor for COVID-19 fraud.
Chambers assembled teams to review “an almost unbelievable quantity of data” and punish anyone who abused pandemic relief services such as the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment insurance.
“Villas, Bentleys, and Rolexes were purchased. We may not recover the whole amount of money, but that is not the main reason we pursue these cases,” Chambers said NBC News.
Federal prosecutors have so far filed over 1,000 criminal charges involving fraud damages totaling more than $1.1 billion and confiscated over $1 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loan profits.
Additionally, 1,800 individuals or groups have been sued for more than $6 billion in pandemic relief loans.
“If those who have taken from the program believe for a moment that our work is over or that they have gotten away with it, they are in for a rude awakening,” he warned.
The agency stated that the chambers will focus on “large-scale criminal enterprises and international players.” According to The Hill, loans were secured in certain cases for fictitious businesses or unlawful expenditures such as sports vehicles, jewelry, and home enhancements.
Additionally, there are instances of identity theft and unemployment insurance fraud.
According to The Washington Post, a judge punished a Texas man last March for seeking roughly $25 million in Payroll Protection Program loans to assist firms that did not have employees.
He fabricated tax paperwork and bank records that purported to indicate wages that were never given to employees. He subsequently used the proceeds to purchase a Bentley convertible, a Corvette Stingray, and a Porsche Macan.
In another example, the newspaper stated that a judge convicted a Georgia man for attempting to deceive the government while collecting small business help, which he used to purchase a Pokemon trading card worth more than $57,000.
According to NBC News, a federal judge sentenced a California man to 17 years in jail last October for his role in a fraud network that misappropriated $18 million in epidemic relief loans meant for small companies.
According to the news site, 11 members and affiliates of a Brooklyn gang were accused last month of stealing the identities of 800 individuals to claim more than $4 million in unemployment benefits. Court filings included photographs of some of them posing with heaps of cash.
According to NBC News, the Secret Service assessed that $100 billion was fraudulently acquired through relief programs, while private analysts indicated the figure might be as high as $400 billion.
Chambers said that the US government spent $5 trillion on pandemic-related money, “so the figures are going to be large.”
“In a tangible sense, individuals were harmed. As a result of this scam, some people have been denied loans that could have covered their children’s tuition for an additional year,” he told NBC News.
“This was not an infinite sum of money.” If someone obtains it fraudulently, it is money that should have gone to someone in need, who was entitled to it, but did not receive it.”