The Department of Justice (DoJ) has appointed Associate Deputy Attorney General Kevin Chambers to serve as the Director for COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement.
In the new position, Chambers will lead the department’s criminal and civil enforcement efforts to combat COVID-19 related fraud, including unemployment insurance benefit fraud that ballooned during the pandemic due in part to overwhelmed state-level IT systems used to administer the benefits.
To date, those efforts have resulted in criminal charges against more than 1,000 defendants with alleged losses exceeding $1.1 billion; the seizure of more than $1 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loan proceeds; and more than 240 civil investigations into more than 1,800 individuals and entities for alleged misconduct in connection with pandemic relief loans totaling more than $6 billion, the DoJ said in a press release.
“The Justice Department remains committed to using every available Federal tool – including criminal, civil, and administrative actions – to combat and prevent COVID-19 related fraud,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “We will continue to hold accountable those who seek to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, to protect vulnerable populations, and to safeguard the integrity of taxpayer-funded programs.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to $860 billion in Federal funds were appropriated for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits through September 2021. However, early investigation and analysis showed that international organized crime groups targeted these funds using stolen identities to file for benefits. Domestic criminals, ranging from identity thieves to violent street gangs and prison inmates, also committed UI fraud.
In May 2021, DoJ established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of DoJ in partnership with agencies across the government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.
In his new role, Chambers plans to focus on large-scale criminal enterprises and foreign actors who sought to profit at the expense of the American people. This will include establishing Strike Teams to prepare for the next phase in the Justice Department’s efforts to fight pandemic fraud.