In May of 2021, the Department of Justice established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to investigate claims of fraud against COVID-19 relief programs. In March of 2022, the Department announced the appointment of Associate Deputy Attorney General Kevin Chambers as the chief prosecutor overseeing enforcement efforts stemming from fraud against COVID-19 pandemic relief funds. COVID relief fund fraud has been a focus of the Department of Justice since the various programs’ inceptions, and the Department recently provided an update on its enforcement efforts.
On April 19, 2022, DOJ provided updates on fifteen criminal actions brought against defendants in eight states with a large percentage of those prosecutions coming from California. In the Central District of California, DOJ announced the indictment of two Glendale residents who allegedly defrauded the government out of $214 million in connect with laboratory tests, including tests conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, that were conducted without regard to the medical necessity of the tests. The government described the alleged conduct as especially egregious because one of the defendants had been excluded from participation in the Medicare program “for several decades.” Also in the Central District of California, the Department announced the indictment of a Los Angeles resident in connection with an alleged $345,000 fraud on COVID-19 relief programs via fraudulent loan applications. The Department also announced three prosecutions in the Northern District of California, with all three individuals being charged for allegedly peddling fake cures for COVID-19.
COVID testing has been a key focus of the enforcement efforts. Individuals in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Utah all face charges stemming from fraud related to COVID testing. These charges include upcoding for office visits, billing for office visits that did not occur in connection with COVID testing, kickbacks for supplying COVID tests to clinical laboratories, and provision of counterfeit negative COVID test results. Charges also stem from alleged kickbacks in connection with telemedicine, the rules for which were relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic. One individual in New Jersey and another in Washington face charges for allegedly creating and distributing fraudulent COVID 19-vaccination cards.
The Department of Justice has placed a major emphasis on combating fraud connected to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated relief funds. Significant resources have been poured into this effort, and fraudulent conduct even tangentially connected to the pandemic is being prosecuted as a result. In some instances, long-standing fraud has been uncovered as a result of the investigation of separate fraudulent conduct related to COVID relief funds. Expect to see the prosecution of more and more individuals as time moves on.
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection with white-collar criminal investigations, False Claims Act investigations, and related commercial litigation. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.