DOJ: 371 people charged with over $836M in COVID-19 related fraud

The Justice Department said Wednesday that 371 people have been charged in over $836 million of COVID-19 related fraud. It was a coordinated national three-month effort. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Aug. 23 (UPI) -- The Department of Justice said Wednesday 371 people are facing charges for over $836 million in pandemic-related fraud.

All told the DOJ has seized over $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that were illegally obtained.

"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," said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland 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."

The DOJ said there were 718 law enforcement actions against COVID-19 fraud that added up to $836 in losses. Law enforcement and prosecutors seized more than $231.4 million and over $57 million in court-ordered restitution was imposed.

The nationwide investigation into the fraud included unemployment benefit insurance fraud and fraud against the Small Business Administration COVID-19 relief programs

Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

These results came from a three-month coordinated law enforcement action form May through July.

"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," said Deputy Attorney General Monaco in a statement. "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."

The fraud included crimes committed against pandemic healthcare billing, fraud against the Emergency Rental Assistance program, and fraud committed against the IRS Employee Retention Credit program.

The DOJ's COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement task Force was created in May 2021.

Last August the U.S. Secret Service announced that it had seized over $1.4 billion in fraudulent COVID-19 relief funds.