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US Attorney in Nevada unveils partnership to investigate COVID aid fraud

Updated October 3, 2020 - 4:14 pm

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada is among the first offices in the nation that will work with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery to investigate coronavirus fraud.

Las Vegas-based U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich and Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery Brian D. Miller announced Friday that they have entered into a memorandum of understanding to investigate and prosecute those looking to take advantage of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“Fraud has been on our radar from the early days of the pandemic, from Jump Street, really,” Trutanich said.

“There’s this unprecedented pandemic, followed by an unprecedented amount of relief from Congress and the administration, which also comes with — what we’re seeing — is an unprecedented amount of fraud.”

Part of the agreement includes providing a coordinated response to matters involving the making, purchase, management and sale of loans, loan guarantees and other investments made by the secretary of the Treasury under the CARES Act “while using all criminal and civil resources efficiently,” a news release said.

Investigators will look at organized criminal and civil fraud affecting federal money and vulnerable victims, the release said.

Officials also hope to link isolated CARES Act-related complaints with larger schemes and deter future CARES Act funding fraud through an “enhanced awareness of successful criminal prosecution and civil enforcement,” according to the release.

“This relationship is a critical step in protecting taxpayer dollars,” Miller said in the release.

The understanding, which will be reviewed annually, also calls for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to create a streamlined, accelerated process for these investigations to obtain court orders, subpoenas and civil investigative demands.

Two assistant U.S. attorneys — one from the Criminal Division and one from the Civil Division — will serve as liaisons to the partnership between both agencies.

In August, a Las Vegas woman was charged by federal authorities with fraudulently seeking over $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced at the time.

The Nevada U.S. Attorney’s Office has been looking at potential fraud since as early as March, when Trutanich appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Mickelson to help “develop strategies to detect and prevent fraud schemes” related to the pandemic, according to the Department of Justice.

In April, Trutanich and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford assembled a task force to crack down on scams and other crimes related to the new coronavirus.

The team, which includes 15 local, state and federal agencies, focuses on investigating tips and prosecuting crimes that exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, such as impersonation of government employees to obtain personal information, price gouging, promotion of fake cures and more.

“Over the last several months, we’ve had a pretty steady drip of prosecutions with respect to unemployment fraud, Paycheck Protection Act fraud, and other COVID-19 related fraud schemes,” he said.

“I expect that as the leads turn into investigations and the investigations turn into prosecutions, that that is going to flow even more steadily.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twiter.

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