Southern District of Florida Takes Sweeping Action Against CARES Act Fraud

Miami, Fl. – The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, and representatives from their partner law enforcement agencies announced today an update on their criminal enforcement efforts in South Florida to combat fraud under the CARES Act, the relief legislation that Congress passed one year ago to help individuals and businesses financially survive the COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular, the enforcement efforts announced today include prosecutions against defendants accused of trying to steal funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and the Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit program.

The Southern District of Florida is a national leader in Covid-19 financial fraud prosecutions.  In the last month, the district has charged the 18 federal criminal cases listed below alleging Covid-19/CARES Act-related financial fraud. Since passage of the CARES Act one year ago, the South Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged a total of 38 COVID-19 financial fraud cases, with fraud scheme dollar amounts totaling over $75 million.

“When the CARES Act was first passed a year ago, our office promised South Floridians that we would prioritize the prosecution of fraudsters who tried to capitalize on this global health and economic crisis,” said Ariana Fajardo Orshan, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Our work has just begun, and we will continue to work together with our partners to hold accountable those who try to cheat South Floridians of much needed relief money.”

“To anyone thinking of using the global pandemic as an opportunity to scam and steal from hardworking Americans, my advice is simple – don’t,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “No matter where you are or who you are, we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The Cares Act was founded to provide financial assistance to millions of Americans and small businesses who are suffering the devastating economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is appalling to see that so many fraudsters orchestrated COVID-19 schemes of this magnitude. It is these indeterminate times where it is imperative for law enforcement partners to combat those who continue to enrich themselves by stealing from Americans in dire need of these funds”, said Acting Special Agent in Charge Tyler R. Hatcher, of IRS Criminal Investigation, Miami Field Office.

“Combatting fraud in the economic stimulus programs focused on providing aid to the nation’s small businesses requires a whole of government response,” said SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite.  “SBA OIG will aggressively pursue evidence of fraud with its law enforcement partners.  I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its leadership and dedication to pursuing justice.”

“Our investigations quickly identified individuals willing to capitalize on this national emergency to enrich themselves at the expense of struggling businesses and their employees,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Miami Field Office. “Today does not represent the end of our efforts in this fight. The FBI will continue to pursue those who defraud the government until they are all prosecuted.”

“The egregious act of stealing from the U.S. government hurts the well-deserving American workers and families that truly deserve the financial assistance provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” said Juan A. Vargas, Acting Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Miami Division. “Together with our federal, state, and local partners we will continue to investigate these types of crimes and seek justice for all Americans trying to make it through this pandemic.  We stand together with Americans and strive to obtain justice for all.”

“An important mission of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of fraud relating to the unemployment insurance program. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate these types of allegations,” stated Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent-in-Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.

“Taking advantage of a program designated to assist businesses in the midst of a pandemic is truly reprehensible,” said Special Agent in Charge Zinnia James of the Coast Guard Investigative Service, Southeast Region. “CGIS and our law enforcement partners will continue to aggressively pursue all manner of fraud within the maritime community.”

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of hard work by numerous agencies. It sends a clear message – federal law enforcement is watching, and will relentlessly pursue fraudsters and bring them to justice,” said Wayne Rosen, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Miami Regional Office, Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. “We are proud to work with our law enforcement partners in this endeavor.”

Other law enforcement agency partners involved in recent prosecutions of alleged Covid-19 relief financial fraud are United States Secret Service and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General.

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion economic relief bill known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Anticipating the need to protect the integrity of these taxpayer funds and to otherwise protect South Floridians from financial fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southern District of Florida immediately established multiple efforts dedicated to identifying, investigating, and prosecuting such fraud.  The multifaceted approach to enforcement during this national health emergency continues.

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