Over $1 trillion was set aside by the U.S. government to help individuals, families and businesses who were struggling with the financial consequences of COVID-19. Somehow, at least $100 billion of that went missing along the way. This estimate was provided by the Secret Service, while the FTC contends that there have been over 400,000 scams related to the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, people want answers about how this money could possibly have vanished into the ether.
Secret Service pandemic fraud recovery coordinator Roy Dotson said that “the sheer size of the pot is enticing to the criminals.”
Much of the lost money was stolen through scams related to unemployment. According to the Labor Department, around $87 billion in benefits might have gone to people who weren’t meant to receive them. The Secret Service has reclaimed around $1.2 billion and returned around $2.3 billion — but that doesn’t come close to fixing the problem. There are hundreds of active investigations related to the thefts. More than a hundred suspects have been arrested.
Lee Price III was charged with wire fraud and money laundering, and eventually pleaded guilty to both crimes. This was after he managed to steal over $1.6 million from the aforementioned “pot.” He tried for another million, but that’s when he got caught.
Dotson added, “Can we stop fraud? Will we? No, but I think we can definitely prosecute those that need to be prosecuted and we can do our best to recover as much fraudulent pandemic funds that we can.”
Courtney Hilaire, a 29-year-old man from Rhode Island, planned to file fake applications for COVID unemployment in eight states — and maybe more. He eventually pleaded guilty to wire fraud, identity theft, conspiracy to possess unauthorized access devices, and possession of the equipment used to make those devices. Hilaire admitted that there were others involved in the scheme. He will be sentenced on March 30, 2022.