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August 02, 2022

Annual 2022: Crackdown on COVID-19 relief fraud gains momentum

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government sprang into action to offer billions of dollars to struggling businesses and families. While millions of recipients benefited from the much-needed assistance, it soon became apparent that the relief programs were fraught with fraud that cost taxpayers a staggering amount of money.

The American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section will examine the situation and what the government is doing about it at the CLE Showcase program “COVID-19 Relief Fraud:  What Is the Future of Enforcement?” The program will be held on Thursday from 3:30-5 p.m. at the Swissotel during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The featured panelists are:

  • Leslie S. Garthwaite, assistant chief, Market Integrity and Major Frauds Unit, Fraud Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Colin M. Huntley, deputy director, Civil Division, Fraud Section, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Michelle Blank, COVID desk officer special agent, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Small Business Administration

Moderator will be Daniel Suleiman, partner at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.

More than two years after the first federal dollars became available through the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and other relief programs, the U.S. Department of Justice began criminally prosecuting fraud cases and cracking down on those who misused the funds.

In May 2021, the DOJ established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force and last March appointed a director for COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement.

Along with its agency partners, including the U.S. Small Business Administration, the DOJ has been aggressive in its efforts to investigate, prosecute and hold civilly responsible companies and individuals for defrauding pandemic relief programs.

Suleiman says the panel of experts at the ABA meeting will discuss the ongoing efforts and accomplishments to combat COVID-19 relief fraud as well as the difference between criminal and civil enforcement and what that means for the kinds of cases that have been brought now and will come in the future.

“Complex fraud cases take time to develop,” Suleiman says. “Given the amount of money at stake and the lengthy statutes of limitations available, the time is now that these cases will truly begin to impact legal professionals in government, in-house and in the defense bar.”

Suleiman hopes the ABA program will give legal professionals an inside look at the future of criminal and civil COVID-19 fraud enforcement. He also hopes the session will cause lawyers to “think hard about the scope of the fraud that was committed and what that could mean for their clients.”