While COVID continues to lose its grip across America, its focus within the Department of Justice is just getting started. On Monday, the DOJ Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the formation of a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Over the past year, the DOJ has observed specific upticks in consumer fraud, not to mention the misappropriation of federal dollars intended to support struggling individuals and businesses. Enter the COVID Task Force, which will comprise a wide-array of assets, including U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force and INTERPOL. To date, the DOJ has charged over 600 defendants across the country and the announcement of this Task Force likely means there are hundreds more on the horizon.
This begs the question: What areas will receive Task Force scrutiny? The DOJ prosecutions thus far shed some light. The DOJ has investigated and prosecuted issues related to fake vaccines, counterfeit N95 / PPE sales (especially to hospitals) and cases of inflated payrolls to obtain larger loans. The DOJ has also investigated cases involving the submission of identical loan applications in the names of multiple companies as well as the formation of shell companies to receive PPP and related loans.
Companies and individuals that conducted business with hospitals, frontline workers, emergency responders and the federal and state governments themselves should be on high alert. As we have seen in the DOJ health care enforcement, the Task Force will likely leverage its diverse components to investigate misconduct related to relief funds, primarily through data analytics. But data often tells part of the story and is usually the first behind-the-scenes step, often followed by a subpoena or even the unannounced visit by federal agents. Individuals and businesses that find themselves on the receiving end of this Task Force are often at an extreme disadvantage and attorneys like those in Polsinelli’s Government Investigations group are exactly who you want to help tell the entire story.