On May 17, 2021, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released a memo announcing the establishment of a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force (“COVID-19 Task Force”). Continuing the government’s collaboration with interagency partners, the COVID-19 Task Force invited at least ten agencies, including the Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Secret Service. Within the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the COVID-19 Task Force will also include heads of litigating components United States Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other related departments and agencies. Interagency coordination is not new nor uncommon.
The COVID-19 Task Force will join the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (“PRAC”) in performing oversight functions related to COVID-19 relief funds. Specifically, the COVID-19 Task Force will help the DOJ:
- to identify cross-governmental resources, investigative techniques, and information for uncovering fraud schemes and the actors who perpetrate them;
- to harness what we have learned about COVID-19 related and other types of fraud from past efforts; and
- to deter, detect, and disrupt future fraud wherever it occurs
According to the press release announcing the COVID-19 Task Force, the COVID-19 Task Force must share information and “bolster efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminals, prevent the exploitation of government assistance for personal and financial gain, and recover stolen funds.” The COVID-19 Task Force is also expected to increase public awareness of COVID-19 related fraud, including how whistleblowers can report fraud.
As the government bolsters its enforcement efforts with tools and resources, recipients of COVID-19 relief funds should ensure continued compliance with the COVID-19 relief program from which the recipient received funds. Recipients should also ensure necessary records and documentation are maintained and readily accessible. The government’s message and warnings are clear. According to Attorney General Garland, “[t]he Department of Justice will use every available federal tool – including criminal, civil, and administrative actions – to combat and prevent COVID-19 related fraud.”
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman – which include a former federal prosecutor – represent businesses and individuals in connection with government investigations and audits, including those conducted by HHS-OIG and the DOJ. If you need assistance with such matters, please contact us today.