MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) – Federal agents say, any time the government injects cash or any kind of stimulus, there will be people who take advantage of that.
COVID-19 stimulus is no exception, and the prosecution of some of those cases is underway.
South Carolinians accounted for more than 70,000 paycheck protection program (PPP) loans, for a total of about $6B. As expected, some of them are not suspected fraud.
“Sometimes the numbers just don’t add up,” said Deputy United States Attorney Derek Shoemake. He said the numbers didn’t add up for at least $12M that investigators already identified. Shoemake said they have recovered a little more than $3M of those assets.
“That’s a small number relative to the $6B, which tells us one thing, and that’s most people are doing the right thing, but when we see people doing the wrong thing we are going to come after them with the full force of our office,” said Shoemake.
Last year former U.S. Attorney Peter McCoy established the South Carolina COVID Strike Team to investigate fraud related to the pandemic.
By March, the office received more than 150 cases.
Among them, a man from Round-O who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal personal protective equipment from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston. He faces up to five years in prison.
Another case involves seven people charged with laundering more than $750,000 of fraudulently obtained money. That includes nearly $400,000 of PPP money. Two of the three suspects from South Carolina have pleaded guilty.
Lowcountry attorney David Aylor is involved in other cases related to PPP fraud and he says the SC COVID Strike Team is aggressively pursuing and prosecuting the cases. He says, in general, people thought they would get away with their crimes.
“In this situation, people thought that because of the amount throughout the United States of businesses that were going to be submitting for PPP loans that they could fly under the radar,” Aylor said.
“Sometimes it starts as a trickle,” Shoemake said. “Somebody gets 50,000 legitimate dollars, things are a little tough and they say ‘well, maybe I could just get $10,000 more to tie me over and by the time the process is complete the person has defrauded the government out of $350,000.”
Shoe make says red flags from the IRS, and other checks alert them to fraud. He also says tips from the public are a big help. If you suspect someone obtained PPP loans or any other COVID related money or equipment fraudulently you can call the COVID Strike Team’s hotline: 866-720-5721 or visit their website: https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus