House Oversight’s COVID-19 subcommittee is demanding to know what the Justice Department is doing about the billions of dollars in COVID-19 pandemic aid that was allegedly stolen by “international” criminals.
Subcommittee chair Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting a full rundown of how many COVID relief dollars were stolen “by international actors or organizations,” including which countries, and how many of those instances the Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into.
His panel is also seeking an analysis of how many Americans were impacted by the fraud and any DOJ communications related to officials’ efforts to crack down on it.
“This massive growth in government spending caused inflation and expanded the government to unprecedented levels,” Wenstrup said, referring to the $4.6 trillion spent on the U.S. COVID-19 response as of the beginning of this year.
“Worse still, these costly COVID-19-era programs were rife with waste, fraud and abuse. Criminals inside and outside the United States stole approximately $280 billion in taxpayer funds intended for struggling families, businesses, hospitals and others.”
He cited a report that some of those stolen funds were taken by foreign actors committing identity theft.
“Some of these fraudulent actors were based outside the United States and may involve international criminal organizations. Estimates imply that at least half of all stolen COVID-19 relief funds went to Russian, Chinese and Nigerian criminals,” Wenstrup wrote.
“As of March 2022, the Department stated that it had taken criminal and civil enforcement actions in matters alleging over $8 billion in pandemic relief fraud, but it is unclear if this is limited to domestic fraud. It is highly concerning that possibly billions of taxpayer dollars intended to help Americans suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were stolen by organized criminal rings in foreign countries.”
In addition to the specific information sought, the subcommittee is also looking for a staff-level briefing on “the Department’s civil and criminal actions to date in response to reports of fraud, waste, and abuse of coronavirus pandemic relief funds by overseas or international actors and criminal organizations.”
The DOJ last week announced charges against 371 defendants whose alleged COVID fraud offenses run more than $830 million.
“The Justice Department has now seized over $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that criminals had stolen and charged over 3,000 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country,” Garland said at the time.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the subcommittee’s letter.