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Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Delivers Remarks at COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force Roundtable


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you so much, Mr. Attorney General. It is great to be here and to have all of you here in person. It's great to see so many friendly and familiar faces, to actually see faces, and I’m really hopeful that we'll continue to do this in person and see more of us gathered together in person for these types of meetings.

I want to say a few words, as we kick off this discussion. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Justice and those of you and the teams that you all represent — we of course know there's many men and women behind you, quite literally, doing all of this incredible work — you all have been, and we have been, hard at work to protect the American people from fraud perpetrated by those seeking to exploit the pandemic and to frankly line their own pockets.

Although we didn't know how long we would have to endure the challenges, the public health challenges of the pandemic, this group knew that because of our experience as prosecutors, as investigators, we knew that there would be other challenges related to the pandemic: those who saw the government's response as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Anticipating what was to come, each of your agencies assembled teams to prevent, detect, and, where appropriate, prosecute those who defraud government programs.

From the very beginning, the federal government — including each of you — has been aggressive about getting out in front of potential fraud. And I want to particularly acknowledge the leadership of Michael Horowitz and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the PRAC, and thank him for his efforts and the efforts of the PRAC, and those of you, of course, who have joined forces. We all and you all have joined forces through the PRAC, through the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force, and, now nearly one year ago through the COVID-Fraud Enforcement Task Force thanks to leadership of the Attorney General when he launched it nearly a year ago. That task force — this task force, of course — consolidated our efforts to improve information sharing, promote best practices, and develop innovative new approaches to prosecuting pandemic-related fraud.

Now, your work has paid off. The COVID Fraud Enforcement Task Force has pursued justice on behalf of victims of fraud and worked to prevent it in the first place. Thanks to your work, we've charged over 1,000 subjects with criminal charges connected to alleged fraud losses of more than $1 billion. And we have underway, of course, investigations of more than 1,800 individuals and entities for alleged fraud in connection with more than $6 billion in relief package loans.

Now, I want to highlight some of the work, your work, that demonstrates just how wide ranging this fraud and our efforts are. In California, thanks to the hard work of inspectors general and investigators from the Small Business Administration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the IRS, the task force was able to secure significant sentences for eight fraudsters who applied for $21 million in PPP and EIDL loans using stolen and fictitious identities. I will say, as you all know, the problem of identity theft, interacting with a pandemic-related fraud is a really significant one, and one we are putting all of our muscle into.

After these defendants that I'm talking about in this case, after trying to launder the proceeds, they used the stolen funds to purchase real estate, securities, luxury watches, designer handbags, and, yes, even a Harley Davidson.

In April of last year, the Consumer Protection Branch of our own Civil Division here in the Department of Justice, working with the Federal Trade Commission, brought charges against a defendant who marketed fake Coronavirus cures. That case represented the first enforcement action under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.

And also last year, thanks again to a great partnership among the Criminal Division here at the Department of Justice and the FBI, the Secret Service, inspectors general and investigators from the Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration, the IRS, and the Postal Service, thanks to all of that work, the task force brought charges against an overseas actor who used the identities of more than 100 Washington state residents to steal funds from a state unemployment insurance agency. That defendant filed similar fraudulent unemployment claims in six other states. So that gives you a sense of just the breadth of these cases.

Now these cases exemplify the collaboration, the teamwork, that defines this whole effort. Each case involves multiple agencies working together to protect the American people. And many more investigate like them, of course, are underway even as we meet here today.

These cases demonstrate also, and I think really, really importantly to underscore, these cases demonstrate that these crimes are not victimless. Every stolen dollar is taken from somebody who needed it. It's taken from a parent who needed it to put food on the table. It’s taken from a small business owner who needed it to meet payroll. So these are not victimless crimes.

Make no mistake: these criminals chose to line their own pockets, at a time when Americans were hurting, when many Americans were dying.

I also want to recognize the work that task force partners are doing far from a court room. And yes, we in the Department of Justice recognize there's work that goes on outside the courtroom. [Laughter]

Because these efforts, our efforts, extend well beyond what winds up in a court room, in a brief, in complaint. Some of our most critical work never appears in a complaint or a press release.

For example, Interpol is leading a global operation to target the illicit production and marketing of fake vaccines.

The U.S. Postal Service has invested over 45,000 inspector hours to investigate claims and develop leads that have resulted in scores of arrests and prosecutions.

And the IRS has directed efforts to tackle tax-related pandemic schemes, and importantly, to inform the public as to how to protect themselves from those types of scams.

And the Social Security Administration's IG has been critical to addressing identity theft-related fraud, and most recently stepped up its efforts to process an enormous backlog of data from state workforce agencies. That data, as we'll talk about, I think, today, is really key to detecting and prosecuting COVID-19 fraud.

These efforts have been incredibly effective, and they are key contributions to our whole-of-government efforts. So, I say thank you, to you and to your teams.

Now, we've made tremendous progress nearly one year since the Attorney General launched this taskforce and I convened our first meeting. But today, we're marking a next phase, a new phase in our efforts, building on what's worked, and bringing all of our expertise and experience and resources to bear on the problem of pandemic-related fraud with new leadership, and new focus on leveraging new tools in our fight.

Because pandemic fraud is a top priority of this administration and this Department of Justice, I'm very pleased and proud to announce that Associate Deputy Attorney General Kevin Chambers, will serve as the Director of COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement. Now, Kevin is known to many of you, and he is an experienced litigator who served as a federal prosecutor here in D.C. And since returning to government has been a trusted adviser to me on corporate investigations and prosecutions.

Many of you of course, know Kevin from his work already on the task force. I look forward to Kevin's continued commitment and work on this important effort, and I thank him very much for agreeing to step up and take on this new role. [Applause]

Now, as outstanding as all of your work has been today, as the Attorney General said, there is still much, much more to do. As we emerge from the pandemic an incredible amount of data continues to arrive from a variety of sources. Criminals, of course, continue to devise and fine tune new ways to commit and to conceal fraud, and I know this task force is currently implementing a number of recommendations that will enhance our efforts to recover stolen funds, taking them out of the hands of criminals and returning them to the American people.

So thank you again for taking the time to join this discussion. I know we're going to begin by hearing from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department Inspector General and, of course, the chair of the PRAC, and we're going to discuss the important work that the IG community has been doing but before we do that, I want to give our new Director an opportunity to say a few words. Kevin?

Disaster Fraud
Updated March 10, 2022