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DOJ Announces It’s Charged Over 3,000 People With COVID Relief Fraud

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Lillian Tweten Contributor
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Wednesday that it has charged over 3,000 individuals with fraud and recovered nearly $1.4 billion in stolen COVID-19 relief funds to date.

The DOJ completed a three-month sweep in July 2023 that led to 371 defendants receiving criminal charges and 119 defendants pleading guilty or receiving convictions, marking the latest action in a years-long effort to clamp down on fraud and return taxpayer dollars, according to a press release. Sixty-three of the defendants had alleged connections to violent crimes and included gang members who had received relief funds as payment for hired murders. (RELATED: DOJ Would Ban FBI Agents From Using Community Crime Statistics in Law Enforcement, Docs Show)

“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,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said, according to the press release.

Leon Haynes, a New Jersey tax preparer who allegedly fraudulently claimed $124 million in COVID-19 tax credits, was one of the individuals arrested at the end of July 2023 in the most recent sweep, The New York Times reported. Mr. Haynes also allegedly filed over 1,000 fraudulent tax forms for businesses he and others owned, telling his clients that it was for “free money” from the government.

Four other individuals were charged with using international pandemic relief for fraud and money laundering in Nigeria, CNBC reported.

Potentially more than $200 billion, or 17%, of the pandemic loans given by agencies may have been given to “fraudulent actors,” according to The New York Times. Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco vowed to “pursue fraudsters and recover taxpayer funds, no matter how long it takes,” according to the press release.

Agencies have worked since May 2021 to recover funds after the Attorney General created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, according to the press release. At least 21 agencies joined the task force to regain the lost funding.

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