Two Charged with Defrauding Buyer of Personal Protective Equipment During Height of Covid-19 Pandemic
NEW ORLEANS – On August 2, 2023, U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced the charging of FRANK LABRUZZO and CYNTHIA CARONNA for conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1343 and 371.
The bill of information alleges that LABRUZZO, CARONNA, and a resident of the United Kingdom, defrauded a business seeking to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) at a time when demand for PPE had dramatically increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the bill of information, CARONNA and the UK resident formed a business venture to offer the sale of PPE, and selected LABRUZZO to be the venture’s escrow agent. The conspirators allegedly agreed that LABRUZZO (who was an attorney and as well as an investigator with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office) would present himself to would-be buyers of PPE as a trustworthy escrow agent who would perform traditional escrow services. More specifically, the conspirators agreed to tell would -be buyers that they could deposit their funds in LABRUZZO’s escrow bank account for the purpose of purchasing PPE; that their funds would be safeguarded in the account until the PPE was satisfactorily delivered to them; and, that if the PPE was not satisfactorily delivered to the would -be buyers, LABRUZZO would promptly return the funds from the escrow account to them.
It is further alleged in the bill of information that CARONNA and LABRUZZO agreed that LABRUZZO would disperse the would-be buyer’s funds despite the would-be buyers having neither received PPE nor consented to the disbursements. CARONNA, LABRUZZO, and Co-conspirator 1 also allegedly agreed that each would receive portions of the would-be buyer’s funds without the would-be buyers’ knowledge or consent. Finally, according to the bill of information, LABRUZZO, at CARONNA’s direction, repeatedly disbursed the escrowed funds to various persons and entities, including disbursements to LABRUZZO and CARONNA.
Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, followed by up to three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.
U.S. Attorney Evans reiterated that the bill of information is merely a charge and that each defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
In May 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The task force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chandra Menon of the Public Integrity Unit is in charge of the prosecution.
Shane M. Jones
Public Information Officer
United States Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Louisiana
United States Department of Justice
Updated August 4, 2023