17 Broward County, Fl., Sheriff’s deputies turned themselves in Thursday to face federal fraud charges for stealing from the COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and another pandemic relief loan program, The Florida Bulldog reports. In total, the 17 deputies stole $495,000, said U.S. Attorney Markenzy LaPointe. He did not say how the accused spent those stolen funds. “While the charging documents do not allege that any of the defendants committed their offenses during the course of their official duties, this does not in any way diminish the seriousness of what the defendants are alleged to have done,” LaPointe said. The news that 17 deputies were charged, while highly embarrassing, came as something of a relief to deputies who feared worse. The internal rumor at department headquarters was that 50 to 70 deputies and civilian employees would be charged. No additional charges are contemplated, although the investigation continues, authorities said. The 17 were charged via individual felony informations, not combined in a single indictment. This would appear to indicate the 17 are seeking to negotiate plea deals with favorable terms.
Sixteen officers were charged with wire fraud, and in another defendant’s case, conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors are also seeking to forfeit assets of all the accused. Authorities said the thefts were not coordinated, nor was there any ringleader. Each of the accused simply saw an opportunity for theft during a nationwide emergency from a generous federal program that had no apparent safeguards. The accused include eight from the law-enforcement division, including one sergeant; and nine from the Department of Corrections, also including a sergeant. About 100 employees obtained PPP loans, but other than the 17 who were charged, all obeyed the law in completing their applications for funding. Sheriff Gregory Tony urged the heads of other police agencies to follow his example and conduct a sweeping check of their employees to root out fraud. “We have worked too hard to allow us to become sloppy and to have one or two individuals to tarnish our reputation,” he said.