COLORADO SPRINGS — The United States government spent $5 trillion to fight COVID-19. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of dollars ended up in the hands of thieves through pandemic fraud schemes.
News5 spent much of the last couple of years tracking these schemes. Now, a newly appointed federal prosecutor aims to track down the crooks.
The estimates are jaw dropping. The Secret Service has estimated that $100 billion dollars was illegally obtained from Covid relief programs, but some experts believe it could be as much as $400 billion.
This isn’t a victimless crime either. Every dollar of that relief money was intended for someone in need, but the money never got there and these crimes impacted consumers and businesses in Colorado.
"To identify pandemic fraud, to charge and prosecute those individuals responsible for it and whenever possible to recover funds stolen from the American people," said Chambers.
Fraud experts say he has an opportunity to improve what’s been a frustrating situation for investigators to this point.
”In Colorado and other states where we know a lot of money per se was provided in relief, we didn’t really see that accountability thus far,” said “Dr. Fraud” J. Michael Skiba of Colorado State University Global.
Chambers vows to set up teams to analyze data that could bring new charges against people involved in pandemic fraud.
“Knowing that a lot more fraud occurred in, or a lot more PPP loans were administered in a certain state, or certain county will help him focus efforts so he can get those quick wins early,” said Skiba.
Federal prosecutors have already brought more than 1,000 criminal cases related to fraud losses of over $1 billion. Also, 1,800 civil cases have been filed related to over $6 billion in loans.
There’s now a renewed focus on fraud tied to paycheck protection program loans and unemployment insurance. Fraud experts say it’ll be important for chambers to show fraudsters there really are consequences for these actions.
”That’s going to create that strong deterrent effect that’s going to actually trickle down and have kind of a ripple effect so others might cooperate with an investigation, but also it’s going to affect other areas of fraud and white collar crime down the road, that the government does take this seriously,” said Skiba.
Here in Colorado, investigators are still working to sort through more than a million fraudulent unemployment claims.
Chambers says he plans to set up strike forces of analysts, agents and prosecutors to help sort through this huge amount of data to get results.
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