COVID relief fund fraud has been a focus of the Department of Justice since the various programs’ inception. Since the CARES Act was signed into law, CG attorneys have warned about heightened enforcement efforts. CG attorneys wrote about the increased risk of government scrutiny for recipients of the PPP, which first provided over $349 billion in forgivable PPP loans to small businesses.
In September 2020, CG attorneys wrote about then-Attorney General Bill Barr’s instruction to the DOJ to focus on pandemic-related fraud, including fraud schemes related to the PPP and the fact the DOJ set up a “team dedicated to PPP fraud” Since then, perpetrators of COVID-19 fraud have faced stiffer penalties and jail sentences. On January 4, 2021, the DOJ announced that Georgia resident Hunter VanPelt, also known as Ellen Corkrum, was sentenced to nearly 3.5 years in prison for PPP loan fraud.
Government enforcement actions related to PPP loan fraud continue. On October 3, 2023, the DOJ announced the sentencing of Amir Aqeel, who was convicted of fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million from the PPP loan program. Mr. Aqeel was sentenced to 15 years “for leading the conspiracy, and for conspiring with at least 14 other individuals to submit 75 fraudulent PPP loan applications in 2020.” The government noted that Mr. Aqeel also paid kickbacks for help with submitting the fraudulent PPP loan applications.
COVID relief fund fraud has been and will continue to be a focus of the Department of Justice. As explained by acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, “The sentences demonstrate that the Department and law enforcement have and will continue to hold individuals accountable for committing fraud on the government.” Along with criminal fraud charges, individuals and entities who have engaged in fraudulent activity in connection with COVID relief funds face potential liability under the False Claims Act. If found liable under the False Claims Act, defendants potentially face damages triple the amount that they received from the COVID relief funds.
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.