New prosecutor targets thieves who stole Covid relief funds
COLORADO SPRINGS — The United States government has spent $5 trillion to fight COVID-19. Sadly, hundreds of millions of dollars have ended up in the hands of thieves as part of pandemic fraud schemes.
News5 has spent much of the past two years tracking these schemes. Now a newly appointed federal prosecutor sets out to hunt down the crooks.
The estimates are to die for. The Secret Service estimated that $100 billion was illegally obtained from Covid relief programs, but some experts believe it could be as high as $400 billion.
Nor is it a victimless crime. Every dollar of this relief money was intended for someone in need, but the money never arrived and these crimes impacted consumers and businesses in Colorado.
“Identify pandemic fraud, charge and prosecute those responsible, and, where possible, recover funds stolen from the American people,” Chambers said.
Fraud experts say he has an opportunity to improve what has been a frustrating situation for investigators so far.
“In Colorado and other states where we know a lot of money per se has been provided in relief, we haven’t really seen that liability so far,” said “Dr. Fraud” J. Michael Skiba of Colorado State University Global.
Chambers pledges to set up teams to analyze data that could lead to new charges against those involved in the pandemic fraud.
“Knowing that a lot more fraud has taken place or that a lot more PPP loans have been administered in a certain state or county will help him focus his efforts so he can get those quick wins quickly,” Skiba said. .
Federal prosecutors have already filed more than 1,000 criminal cases related to fraud losses of more than $1 billion. Additionally, 1,800 civil cases have been filed involving more than $6 billion in loans.
There is now a renewed focus on fraud related to Paycheck Protection Program loans and Unemployment Insurance. Fraud experts say it will be important for chambers to show fraudsters that these actions really have consequences.
“It’s going to create this strong deterrent effect which is actually going to trickle down and have a kind of ripple effect so that others can cooperate with an investigation, but it’s also going to affect other areas of fraud and white-collar crime on the road, that the government takes this seriously,” Skiba said.
Here in Colorado, investigators are still working to triage more than a million fraudulent unemployment claims.
Chambers says he plans to set up strike forces made up of analysts, agents and prosecutors to help sort through this huge amount of data to get results.
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