The DOJ has in within a year after Congress passed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, managed to criminally charge over 474 people for allegedly obtaining $569 million fraudulently through COVID-19-related schemes since banks started processing Paycheck Protection Program loans on behalf of the SBA. Among the problems that SBA cites are forged companies receiving thousands of dollars, businesses getting money even if their payrolls is more than the 500-employee caps, and others receiving money even when the law prohibits them due to existing government debts.
Most cases are perpetrated by people who see the economic intervention by the government as a way of making quick money. While these individuals are now focused on the PPP loans, DOJ notes that the fraud will likely turn into something more complex and more significant in the coming months if not addressed now. Due to the sensitivity and possibility of the matter getting out of hand if left unchecked, sweeping investigations by the DOJ have commenced with the law enforcement now pursuing charges against large companies that received millions of dollars in PPP loans and individuals who are accused of fraudulently receiving PPP loans to finance their lavish personal lifestyles.
DOJ is responding to this in a variety of ways. Recently, it advertised a vacancy for a trial attorney whose work will be to prosecute cases under the CARES Act, including PPP fraud. This adds to the DOJ’s Market Integrity and Major Funds (MIMF) Unit that prosecutes cases involving government procured fraud and stopping fraud in the SBA COVID-19 disaster relief programs such as the PPP and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).
Fraud liability comes in a variety of ways. The first one is from the certifications that companies need to have before participating in the CIVID-19 relief programs. For instance, to participate in the PPP, companies must have multiple certifications on their loans and forgiveness applications. This is where the fraud begins. Some companies obtain false certificates that show that they have no other government loans or are not involved in any bankruptcy proceedings when the facts are different. This increases the risk of companies falling victim to more sophisticated fraud.
As the rate of fraud continues increasing during this season of COVD-19, several companies will soon find themselves subject to government investigation related to the PPP loans. This is shown by the number of whistleblower reports and lawsuits under the FCA (False Claims Act), that has been on the rise, the cooperation among several law enforcement agencies at local and federal levels and internationally, and the audits being conducted on all companies that borrowed more than $2 million under the PPP. Businesses with foreign affiliates or operations are equally at risk due to footprints and the cooperation between the US agencies and their international counterparts.
While the companies that did not take advantage of COVID-19 relief have nothing to worry about, they sometimes get asked questions by the regulators and law enforcers. This can be avoided by maintaining robust files that will support presentations and answer all questions that law enforcers might want to know.