Federal officials asked Congress for more money and more time to prosecute COVID-19 scams during a Tuesday hearing.
Oversight of pandemic programs has been a wide-ranging task carried out by the three agencies created by the CARES Act, the Department of Justice, the Government Accountability Office, the Inspectors General, the Secret Service and others. A majority of staffers on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a memo ahead of its hearing on Tuesday with historical figures on small business recovery of funds not properly received, defendants indicted and other figures, but regulators stressed it did his numbers are not yet known.
The “efforts by the regulatory community and law enforcement agencies to combat small business loan program fraud would be enhanced by extending the statute of limitations for [Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program] Credit Fraud” in two bipartisan bills passed by the House of Representatives last week, Michael Horowitz, the committee’s chairman, who also serves as the Justice Department’s inspector general, said in his prepared remarks.
“The 10-year statute of limitations is consistent with that for bank fraud, which has been indicted in most cases for alleged PPP fraud for loans originated by traditional banks,” he continued. “However, many loans under pandemic relief programs for small businesses have been made by non-bank financial technology companies or fintechs. Cases of fraud involving fintech companies are prosecuted as wire fraud with a statute of limitations of five years.”
Kevin Chambers, Director for COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement at Justice, and Hannibal “Mike” Ware, Inspector General of the Small Business Administration, also expressed their support for the legislation during the hearing.
In terms of funding, Chambers called for support for the $41.2 million for the judiciary’s COVID-19 fraud enforcement, which President Biden included in his fiscal 2023 budget proposal, which does not approve in his fiscal 2022 proposal (he did not name the current, adopted level). “These resources will accelerate our data analysis and our identification of fraudulent schemes, and that will improve our ability to bring people to justice and recover funds,” he said.
Ware said the president is proposing a $10 million increase for fiscal 2023 from current levels and that it is “vital” that that motion be supported.
Horowitz said that while this was not an issue specifically for the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the IG offices had the “lack of follow-up funding and the fact that emergency funding, which was obviously not an annual allocation, required the IGs to make decisions now.” ‘Are we cutting staff?’”
For the committee, he said the data analysis platform it set up to study the $5 trillion in pandemic aid should be preserved for future disaster recovery. The data analytics platform set up to monitor the Recovery Act 2009 was sunset in 2015, when the IG community had to start from scratch five years later when the pandemic struck, Horowitz noted.
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Roy Dotson, the Secret Service’s national coordinator for pandemic fraud recovery, testified that pandemic-aid fraud schemes were “not unknown to the Secret Service” and its efforts to eliminate them would go on for years. The agency has mobilized more than 160 offices and 44 Cyber Fraud Task Forces to work on investigations related to COVID-19.
Chambers, whom the Justice Department appointed in March, said the department will soon set up strike teams in “designated locations” to meet its goals of prosecuting large-scale fraud by criminal organizations and foreign actors.
A new report by Democratic staff alleges glitches by the Trump administration
Ahead of the hearing, the select subcommittee released a report arguing that the Trump administration had “wasted” taxpayer dollars by making the COVID-19 economic injury loan program vulnerable to fraud by failing to implement adequate internal controls have. The report touts the stronger controls put in place by the Biden administration.
During the hearing, Ware said that early on there was a battle between the need to extract funds quickly and the need for internal controls, and that the most worrisome deficiency initially was the ability to self-certify that you were a company and the Number employed by people to get relief.
Responding to a question from MP Carolyn Maloney DN.Y., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Ware said: “It’s important for me to say that the effort to increase lowered controls isn’t really an important administrative matter from one to one next. This has been an ongoing situation,” and said things started to change in December 2020 at the urging of his office.