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Federal investigators team up to identify COVID relief fraud

USAChris Kavanaugh.jpg
Matthew T. Nichols
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U.S Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Chris Kavanaugh

The U.S. Attorney in Virginia’s Western District has already won 60 convictions against people and companies awarded money they were not entitled to.

"We have seen many cases where people have simply lied," says Christopher Kavanaugh. "They said that they had a business that went under, or they had employees who couldn’t go to work, and either the business was completely fictitious, or they had not employees in the first place."

He is among the first prosecutors in the nation to team-up with the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery in Washington. The partnership will mean more resources to review applications for aid and, in cases of fraud, faster prosecution.

"If you commit fraud, you can serve up to 20 years in jail," Kavanaugh warns. "There was one individual who led a conspiracy to be able to do this, and they ultimately obtained over $500,000, and she was sentenced to eight and a half years in federal prison, but the more that you steal and the more that you convinced other people to join you in this fraud, the higher the penalties are going to be."

He says Congress knew there could be fraudulent claims when it rolled out the program.

"Because it was so important that this financial assistance be provided quickly to families and small businesses, there wasn’t much due diligence on the front end, and that was by design. The system was set up to count on people being honest about how they were affected by the pandemic."

Now, Kavanaugh says, he and the Special Inspector have made it a priority to catch up with those who did not play by the rules.

"All of this ultimately is about making sure that the right people got the money and that taxpayer investments were protected."

You can find more information about how to report fraud here and here. You can also email fraud@gao.gov or call 1-800-424-5454.