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Tampa Bay Prosecutors Expose New COVID-19 Relief Fraud Schemes

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Prosecutors Expose Relief Fraud Tampa

TAMPA – A Riverview man was sentenced recently. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida, says he was convicted of conspiracy and wire fraud for fraudulently receiving COVID-19 relief funds.

Prosecutors say Alexander Alli, 39, defrauded the Small Business Administration of $82,500 through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. The U.S. Attorney’s Office notes that even though the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, cases of fraud continue to surface.

“It’s unfortunate that people took advantage of the situation and committed so much fraud in taking money that was designed to help small businesses that were being crushed by the pandemic,” Asst. U.S. Attorney Merrilyn Hoenemeyer said.

Prosecutors explain that Alli applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. “There was both fraud in the application, fraud in how the money was used, and then fraud in the cover-up,” Asst. U.S. Attorney Jennifer Peresie said.

They further state that Alli’s business wasn’t in operation when he applied for the loan and hadn’t been since before the pandemic.

The Middle District of Florida established the COVID-19 Fraud Task Force in March 2020 to anticipate and address fraudulent activities targeting economic assistance programs.

“Unfortunately, we’ve discovered that any time there’s a government program to distribute money, fraudsters take advantage of it,” Peresie said.

As of April, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted 81 defendants for COVID-19 fraud violations, with losses totaling $86 million.

“People will create fake businesses or, you know, fake payroll tax forms, for example,” FBI Forensic Accountant Joshua Tomlin said.

FBI forensic accountants play a crucial role in uncovering these cases. They trace bank statements, withdrawals, and major purchases from the moment relief funds are received.

“You can tell from the time the money was deposited into the account and go from there,” FBI Forensic Accountant Gianine Lorie said. “Maybe check the balance that it was prior, before the deposit.”

Prosecutors continue to uncover new cases of fraud, regardless of the amount of money involved.

“Probably every federal agency and most state agencies are now working on some COVID fraud cases because it is so pervasive in terms of the number of people involved and the amount of money that was lost in this fraud.”

Investigators report that many suspects in COVID relief fraud cases were linked to other types of fraud cases, reported by FOX 13 News.

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