The Justice Department has created three Strike Force teams to improve its efforts to fight and prevent COVID-19 fraud.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement Wednesday that the department confiscated over $1.2 billion in relief funds that people were trying to steal and charged over 1,500 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country.
“These Strike Force teams will build on the Department’s historic enforcement efforts to deter, detect, and disrupt pandemic fraud wherever it occurs,” Garland said. “The Department will continue to work relentlessly to combat pandemic fraud and hold accountable those who perpetrate it.”
According to a new release, the Strike Force teams will function out of U.S. Attorney’s Offices in locations that include Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami and Sacramento.
“The Strike Force teams are the latest example of the Justice Department’s commitment to fight pandemic fraud,” said Associate Deputy Attorney General Kevin Chambers, who serves as the department’s director for COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement.
“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 creation of the Strike Force teams comes after a report in June claimed D.C. may have exposed itself to potential fraud based on its handling of COVID-19 emergency contracts worth nearly half a billion dollars. A Virginia couple, a D.C. man and a NASA employee were among those investigated by the IRS in March for tax and money laundering related to COVID-19 fraud.
In August, President Joe Biden signed two measures that were designed to curb fraud in pandemic relief programs. Also, it lengthened the statute to give prosecutors additional time to to file criminal charges. Later that month, the U.S. Secret Service recovered $286 million in stolen pandemic loans and returned the money to the Small Business Administration.
“Cheaters have been living large on funds intended to keep families and local business afloat during a national crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron, of the District of Maryland, in a statement. “Our office is proud to participate in the COVID-19 Strike Force. We’ll continue prosecuting large-scale COVID-19 fraud while also integrating this priority into our violent crime strategy.”