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Investigators May Take A Decade To Unravel Pandemic Frauds

During the pandemic, the federal government gave unemployment benefits to the incarcerated, the imaginary and the dead. It sent funds to “farms” that turned out to be front yards. It paid people who were on the government’s “Do Not Pay List.” It gave loans to 342 people who said their name was “N/A.” Overall, the federal government sent a flood of relief money into programs aimed at helping the unemployed and boosting the economy. That included $3.1 trillion that former President Trump approved in 2020, followed by a $1.9 trillion package signed by President Biden last year. Those dollars came with few strings and minimal oversight, reports the New York Times. The result: one of the largest frauds in history, with billions of dollars stolen by thousands of people, including an amateur who boasted of his criminal activity on YouTube. Some 500 people are working on pandemic-fraud cases across the offices of 21 inspectors general, plus investigators from the FBI, the Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service. The federal government has charged 1,500 people with defrauding pandemic-aid programs, and more than 450 people have been convicted. Those figures are dwarfed by the mountain of tips and leads that investigators still must chase. The Labor Department’s inspector general’s office has 39,000 investigations going. About 50 agents in a Small Business Administration office are sorting through two million potentially fraudulent loan applications. The sheer number of cases means that some small-dollar thefts may never be prosecuted. President Biden signed bills extending the statute of limitations for some pandemic-related fraud to 10 years from five, a move aimed at giving the government more time to pursue cases.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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