Authored by Samantha Flom via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched two new COVID-19 fraud strike forces, the department said Wednesday in announcing the filing of criminal charges against 371 people in relation to the theft of more than $836 million in pandemic relief funds.
“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 Garland said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
The charges are the result of a COVID-19 fraud enforcement sweep that took place nationwide from May through the end of July.
According to the DOJ, of the 371 defendants charged, 119 either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than $57 million in court-ordered restitution was imposed.
The sweep involved a total of 718 law enforcement actions, including 117 civil matters yielding more than $10.4 million in judgments.
Many cases involved charges related to pandemic unemployment insurance benefit fraud and fraud against the Small Business Administration’s two largest pandemic programs: the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
Together, prosecutors and law enforcement worked to secure the forfeiture of more than $231.4 million.
Announcing the results at a roundtable meeting of senior DOJ, law enforcement, and Office of the Inspector General officials, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the department was also launching two new strike forces to assist in its ongoing crackdown on pandemic-related fraud.
“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,” Ms. Monaco said. “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.”
According to the Associated Press, it is possible that more than $280 billion in pandemic relief funds was stolen by fraudsters, while another $123 billion was wasted or misspent.
The attorney general established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May 2021 to help prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of COVID-19 fraud. In September 2022, the DOJ added to those efforts by launching three strike force teams at the U.S. attorney’s offices in the Eastern and Central Districts of California, the Southern District of Florida, and the District of Maryland.
The new strike forces will operate out of the U.S. attorney’s offices for the District of Colorado and the District of New Jersey.
“I applaud the hard work of our prosecutors around the country,” said Michael C. Galdo, acting director of COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement. “However, this announcement is not a victory lap. Our mission is not complete.
“We know from our investigative partners that identifying those who committed pandemic relief fraud and recovering stolen funds is difficult work. But the Justice Department, including our strike forces, U.S. attorneys’ offices, and the Criminal and Civil Divisions, is committed to using our criminal, civil, and forfeiture tools to hold these fraudsters accountable.”