US Secret Service seizes $286 million in fraudulently obtained Covid relief funds

US Secret Service investigators have seized $286 million in illegally obtained coronavirus pandemic relief funds, the agency announced on August 26.

By Josh Campbell, CNN

(CNN) -- US Secret Service investigators have seized $286 million in illegally obtained coronavirus pandemic relief funds, the agency announced Friday.

An investigation run by the service's Orlando, Florida, field office determined conspirators fraudulently submitted small business pandemic relief loan applications "using fabricated or stolen employment and personal information," the agency said. The US Secret Service said criminals used a third-party payment system and over 15,000 accounts to conceal and move illegal funds.

The US Secret Service has ramped up efforts to target criminals who unlawfully obtained pandemic relief funds two years since the coronavirus pandemic begun.

"Since 2020, the Secret Service has seized over $1.4 billion in fraudulently obtained funds and assisted in returning approximately $2.3 billion to state unemployment insurance programs," the agency said Friday, noting it had launched nearly 4,000 investigations.

David Smith, assistant director of the US Secret Service Office of Investigations, said by aiding in the return of nearly $2.3 billion in stolen funds over the last 30 months, the agency has demonstrated "a clear and firm commitment to the vitality of American businesses across the country."

"The Secret Service is dedicated to safeguarding the integrity of the nation's financial systems against fraud and holding those responsible to account for their criminal activity," Smith said in a statement.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed into law two bipartisan bills to address fraudulent criminal acts committed under pandemic relief programs. Both laws extend the time period prosecutors have to prosecute individuals who committed fraud through the Paycheck Protection Program or Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, extending the statute of limitations for criminal and civil enforcement against a borrower to 10 years.

In December, the US Secret Service tapped a senior official, Roy Dotson, to work with law enforcement agencies across the country on the issue. In April, federal prosecutors charged 21 people for allegedly seeking to defraud government health care programs of $149 million through a variety of pandemic-related scams, including selling fake Covid-19 vaccination cards and submitting claims for unnecessary medical tests.

In March 2021, a year after passage of the $2 trillion economic aid legislation, the CARES Act, federal investigators identified more than half a billion dollars in fraud and charged 474 people with crimes related to theft of money from Covid-19 relief programs.

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