On May 17, 2021, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The Task Force will marshal the resources of the DOJ with government agencies to enhance enforcement efforts against COVID-19 fraud. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-announces-task-force-combat-covid-19-fraud.
The Task Force will help the DOJ with work that is already underway by performing the following tasks:
- Detect and disrupt future fraud;
- Support the investigation and prosecution of the most culpable offenders;
- Assist in the recovery of stolen funds;
- Work closely with DOJ’s interagency partners to share information from prior enforcement experience;
- Help agencies tasked with administering these relief programs increase their own vigilance by providing information law enforcement learns about fraud trends and illicit tactics;
- Field a public awareness campaign through fraud alerts and a dedicated DOJ website; and
- Serve as a deterrent, amplifying the message that exploiting government assistance for personal and financial gain will not be tolerated.
The members include the following entities within the DOJ, or their designees:
- Heads of Litigating Components,
- United States Attorneys,
- The Executive Office for United States Attorneys,
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation,
- The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF),
- The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General – The National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force, and
- INTERPOL Washington.
It also includes the following interagency partners:
- Department of Labor,
- Department of the Treasury, including the Internal Revenue Service,
- Department of Homeland Security, including the United States Secret Service,
- Small Business Administration,
- Department of Health and Human Services, including the Food and Drug Administration,
- Department of Veterans Affairs,
- Social Security Administration,
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,
- Federal Housing Finance Agency,
- Federal Reserve Board,
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service,
- Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief, and
- The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Many of these entities are regularly involved in fraud investigations. This list also includes two new entities created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief (SIGPR) and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC). Both entities have oversight over stimulus funds and will conduct audits and investigations to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. SIGPR is expected to operate like the Special Inspector General Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), which was created to oversee the government bank bailout in the 2008 financial crisis. SIGTARP conducted numerous investigations resulting in criminal charges being filed against 450 criminal defendants and $11 billion in restitution and False Claims Act recovery. https://www.sigtarp.gov. The same criminal and civil enforcement is expected of SIGPR, but on a larger scale based upon the amount of COVID-19 stimulus funds.
As of May 17, 2021, over 600 individuals had been charged with COVID-19 related fraud, involving over $600 million. The DOJ has also secured civil injunctions, seized loan proceeds, and obtained convictions in COVID-19 fraud cases. Robust enforcement of these cases will undoubtedly continue utilizing the same techniques used in white collar criminal and civil fraud investigations. There is simply too much money and potential for abuse for the DOJ to not investigate and prosecute these cases.