Secret Service recovers $2 billion in fraudulently obtained Covid-19 relief funds

Students Return To Classrooms Full Time As Pandemic Restrictions Ease
STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 10: Third grade literacy instructor Katelyn Battinelli talks with students about their pandemic-related fears on the first day of in-person learning for five days per week at Stark Elementary School on March 10, 2021 in Stamford, Connecticut. Stamford Public Schools, like many school districts nationwide, are returning to full time in-school learning as pandemic restrictions begin to ease. The district had been operating on a hybrid model for most of the school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Federal officials from the US Secret Service have helped recover around $2 billion in fraudulently obtained Covid-19 relief funds and seized more than $640 million from accused fraudsters, the agency said Wednesday.

One year into the pandemic, the Secret Service has opened 690 cases regarding unemployment insurance fraud, on top of another 720 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program fraud investigations and inquiries.

“The amount of unemployment insurance benefits provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in the history of the nation’s unemployment insurance system,” said Larry Turner, the acting inspector general for the Labor Department. “Unfortunately, the significant increase in benefits made the program a target for those seeking to defraud government programs.”

In a recent hearing in front of House lawmakers, Secret Service Director James Murray said the agency’s approach to recovering stolen funds has evolved over the last year from stopping scams to building robust prosecutions. Murray also noted the size of the Covid-relief packages from Congress are extraordinary and the work to root out fraud will continue long after the virus slows.

“We’ve probably made more than 120 arrests specific only to Covid fraud,” Murray said. “This is not something that is going to go away. The size of these packages are so notable and the opportunities that exist are going to be persistent, we’re going to be addressing Covid fraud for many years to come.”

In March, the Justice Department announced federal investigators identified more than $500 million in fraud and charged 474 people with crimes related to stealing from Covid-relief designated funding.

Among the top targets by prosecutors were fraudsters trying to steal from the Paycheck Protection Program, with people running schemes ranging from exaggerating their business expenses to concocting fake companies to get funding. In one Texas case, a man pleaded guilty to seeking $24.8 million in PPP loans using the names of 11 different companies to make loan applications to 11 lenders. He managed to obtain $17.3 million in forgivable loans and used the money to buy homes, jewelry and luxury cars.