The Department of Justice recently charged 371 people with stealing a combined $836 million in funds that were meant to be used for Covid 19 relief, according to The New York Post.
The charges came after a three-month investigation by various law enforcement agencies, which led to 63 of the 371 people charged to be deemed gang members and others with connections to violent crime. Some of the funds were even used in murder-for-hire plots, prosecutors say.
Much of the misused funds comes from pandemic unemployment insurance as well as funds from Small Business Administration programs including the Paycheck Protection Program and economic injury disaster loans, according to the DOJ.
These charges are in addition to the 3,000 individuals already charged by the DOJ, with the agency seizing $1.4 billion in misused pandemic-era relief funds. Some of the most fraudulent programs include the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, both administered by the Small Business Administration.
These programs have been rife with fraud. The PPP program alone had about $200 billion in fraudulent payments, equaling about 17% of the loans awarded.
The criminals have spent stolen funds on luxury cars, private jet rides, vacation homes, and designer jewelry, according to The Post. Just last week, a real estate broker was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for using $381,000 in fraudulently obtained funds to buy a Bentley, a luxury apartment and pay for cosmetic procedures.
Of those charged in this wave, 119 pleaded guilty or were convicted, and 117 cases were handled in civil court. The DOJ says $231.4 million of the stolen funds have been recovered so far.
COVID-19 stimulus programs continue to be some of the most fraudulent programs in history, with record amounts of taxpayer money used for self-enrichment by criminals thanks to insufficient oversight and controls.
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This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.