The Justice Department on Thursday appointed Kevin Chambers to lead its efforts to prosecute cases of fraud and attempted fraud linked to at least $8 billion in Covid-19 relief funds.
The move to appoint a prosecutor to tackle stimulus fraud comes on the heels of President Biden’s State of the Union address, in which he pledged to prosecute “the criminals who stole billions.” relief money.
Chambers, who served as assistant deputy attorney general for the past year, will lead the department’s criminal and civil enforcement efforts and oversee the investigation and prosecution of fraud allegations.
Since the start of the health crisis, the federal government has sent approximately $5 trillion to American households, small businesses, schools and other institutions to help the American economy recover from the pandemic. While the money sped up vaccination campaigns across the country, relieved the unemployed and helped schools hire educators to tackle learning loss, the funds also led to a series of high-profile fraud cases. .
In Florida, authorities say a woman paid off a hitman using part of a $15,000 loan intended to help struggling small businesses. In Georgia, a man spent $57,000 in coronavirus relief money to buy a rare Pokémon trading card which feds later seized. And others across the country spent the relief money on Ferraris, Lamborghinis and luxury jewelry, officials said.
Mr Chambers will focus on “big criminal enterprises and foreign actors” who misused the money. These efforts will include the creation of “strike teams” ahead of the department’s next phase of pandemic fraud.
“Our strike teams will augment the department’s existing efforts and include analysts and data scientists to review data, officers to investigate cases, and prosecutors and prosecutors to lay charges and adjudicate cases,” he said. Chambers said in a statement.
The department’s efforts have so far resulted in criminal charges against more than 1,000 defendants and the seizure of more than $1 billion in proceeds from the Economic Disaster Loan Program, which provided loans to small businesses during the pandemic.
Early investigations also indicated that “international organized crime groups” targeted federal programs that distributed unemployment benefits. International and domestic criminals have used stolen identities to apply for benefits, the department said. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 430 people have been arrested and charged with federal offenses related to unemployment insurance fraud, according to the department.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland established the Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force last May. It works with other government agencies to prosecute the “guiltiest” criminals.
“We will continue to hold accountable those who seek to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, protect vulnerable populations and uphold the integrity of taxpayer-funded programs,” Garland said in a statement Thursday.