June 15, 2024

In response to the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government approved roughly $5 trillion in aid programs. Such programs featured the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), allowing companies to apply for loans that could be forgiven, intended for payroll and other costs; the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL), allowing companies to apply for low-interest loans for operating expenses and other typical costs; and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) for employees who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Regrettably, a significant number of individuals sought to exploit these programs by submitting deceptive applications. The scale of the theft was enormous. The U.S. Small Business Administration inspector general projected $136 billion in EIDL fraud and $64 billion in PPP fraud. For FPUC, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated over $100 billion in fraud. Combined, these losses make it the biggest fraud in history. Ultimately, these losses will have to be covered by the American taxpayer, and even more concerning, because most of the money was borrowed by the U.S government, future generations will bear the burden.

So, how did some of the fraudsters misuse their ill-gotten gains? Some purchased property, luxury vehicles like Lamborghinis and Ferraris, high-end goods such as Rolex watches, and jewellery, gold coins, and diamonds. Others misused the money in strip clubs, gambling trips to Las Vegas, chartering private jets, and vacations of a lifetime.

More: Indictment for 19 Springfield postal workers on fraud charges related to COVID-19 loans

The FBI has been working tirelessly to bring these culprits to justice. Through partnership and intelligence-driven methods, we have initiated thousands of investigations targeting COVID-19-related fraud across the country. Specifically, in the FBI’s Springfield Field Office, which oversees central and southern Illinois, our dedicated special agents, intelligence analysts, and forensic accountants are conducting investigations that have led to dozens of subjects being charged. One of our investigations recently led to 19 U.S. Postal Service employees and ex-employees in central Illinois facing charges for deceiving the PPP by claiming fraudulent expenses for nonexistent businesses.

Besides the obvious imperative of bringing criminals to justice, the FBI’s investigations into COVID-19-related fraud also send a critical message: American taxpayers’ money cannot be stolen without consequence. There is still a significant task ahead of us to bring more culprits to justice, and due to the vastness of the fraud, the FBI and our law enforcement partners cannot handle this task alone. Therefore, we seek your help if you have any information on those who defrauded these pandemic relief programs, please contact the FBI. To report fraud, visit www.ic3.gov or call FBI Springfield at (217) 522-9675.

David G. Nanz is the special agent in charge at the FBI Springfield.