U.S. Attorney Announces Two Additional Indictments as Part of COVID-19 Relief Fraud Strike Force
Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, has announced two new indictments resulting from the COVID-19 Relief Fraud Strike Force launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this year. The Indictments were recently unsealed.
On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The CARES Act provided a number of programs through which eligible small businesses could request and obtain relief funding intended to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic for small and local businesses. One such program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided government-backed loans to small businesses which could be forgiven so long as the proceeds were used for payroll and other eligible expenses. Another program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, provided low interest loans that could be deferred until the conclusion of the pandemic to provide “bridge” funding for small businesses to maintain their operations during shutdowns and other economic circumstances caused by the pandemic. The PPP and EIDL programs have provided billions of dollars in aid, the vast majority of which have not been paid back, including hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed within Eastern Washington.
“COVID-19 relief programs quickly ran out of money due to the number of people and businesses that requested funding, which meant that some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “We created the COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force because it is critical to the strength and safety of our community in Eastern Washington that we all work together to combat pandemic-related fraud. The Strike Force is one way to ensure that limited resources are provided to deserving local businesses that provide vital services for our communities. I greatly appreciate the hard work and esprit de corps of so many talented agents and agencies that are contributing to our collective efforts.”
In February 2022, U.S. Attorney Waldref and the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) began working with federal law enforcement agencies to create and launch a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force that would leverage partnerships between different agencies to aggressively investigate and prosecute fraud against COVID-19 relief programs in Eastern Washington. The Strike Force consists of agency representatives from the USAO, Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs OIG, General Services Administration OIG, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Energy OIG, and others. Cases investigated and prosecuted by the Strike Force have resulted in numerous indictments, criminal prosecutions, and civil penalties, including these two most recent indictments.
On May 3, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Natasha Opsal, age 40, a former Spokane resident now residing in Great Falls, Montana, with nine counts of fraud in connection with several COVID-19 relief loans. The Indictment charges that Opsal fraudulently sought over $600,000 through the PPP and EIDL programs for fictitious businesses, over $50,000 of which she received. The Indictment was unsealed today following Opsal’s arrest and arraignment on the charges.
The same day, May 3, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Yuriy P. Anishchenko, age 34, a former Spokane resident last known to be residing in Kent, Washington, with three counts of fraud in connection with two EIDL loans sought and obtained by Anishchenko. The Indictment charges that Anishchenko fraudulently obtained over $300,000 for non-qualifying and ineligible businesses. The fraud charges in both cases carry maximum sentences of up to 20 years in federal prison.
“I commend the stellar investigative work on these cases performed by the Strike Force and especially by the U.S. Secret Service, SBA, FBI, and TIGTA” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “We will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to vigorously prosecute those who abuse and misuse COVID-19 relief funding.”
Assistant United States Attorney Dominique Park is prosecuting United States v. Anishchenko, while Special Assistant United States Attorney Frieda Zimmerman and Assistant United States Attorney Tyler H.L. Tornabene are prosecuting United States v. Opsal. Both cases were investigated by the COVID-19 Relief Fraud Strike Force.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
United States v. Opsal, Case No: 2:22-CR-0053-TOR
United States v. Anishchenko, Case No: 2-22-CR-0057-TOR