The Justice Department announced the creation of three strike force teams created to enhance its efforts to combat and prevent COVID-related fraud.
The three teams will operate out of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Southern District of Florida, the District of Maryland and a joint effort between the Central and Eastern Districts of California.
The teams are comprised of prosecutors and agents from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with assistance from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery.
"Since the start of this pandemic, the Justice Department has seized over $1.2 billion in relief funds that criminals were attempting to steal, and charged over 1,500 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country, but our work is far from over," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a Wednesday release. "The Department will continue to work relentlessly to combat pandemic fraud and hold accountable those who perpetrate it."
The efforts have resulted in criminal charges against over 1,500 defendants with alleged losses exceeding $1.1 billion, the seizure of over $1.2 billion in relief funds and the civil investigations into more than 1,800 individuals and entities for alleged misconduct in connection with pandemic relief loans totaling more than $6 billion, the DOJ said.
"The Strike Force teams are the latest example of the Justice Department’s commitment to fight pandemic fraud," Chambers said. "The work being done by our prosecutors, trial attorneys, agents and partners on our COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force has been extraordinary. We’re going a step further today with the announcement of Strike Force teams to support, enhance, and continue the great work being done across the Department."
The Justice Department said that since its establishment of the COVID-19 Fraud Task Force in May 2021, it has worked closely with law enforcement partners to analyze data from state workforce agency partners and the Small Business Administration.
The strike force teams are designed to accelerate turning data analytics into criminal investigations.
The department said the prosecutor-led approach had previously proven successful in other organized crime arenas and would be key to dismantling the networks that stole pandemic relief funds."
Efforts to combat COVID-related fraud schemes have included cases involving the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs and COVID-19 health care fraud enforcement.