Governor Pritzker Likely to Extending Statute of Limitations for Pandemic Relief Fraud
It is widely expected that Illinois Governor Pritzker will sign recently passed legislation that will extend the statute of limitations to bring criminal charges against individuals who committed fraud involving one of the pandemic relief programs from 5 years to 10 years, echoing President Biden’s signing of a similar law last August. The revised statute of limitations will apply to those cases involving, the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, the Paycheck Protection Program (commonly referred to as “PPP”), and unemployment programs. Prosecutors and investigators have indicated they need additional time to untangle the various webs of criminal activity committed during the heights of the pandemic when programs were designed to get money into the hands of individuals and businesses quickly without the same procedural safeguards normally in place. In recent months, it has been reported that 48 employees of the Cook County Clerk of Court, along with other City employees, were fired or resigned in connection with fraud investigations surrounding pandemic relief programs. Such investigations and charges are likely to continue for years to come with the extended statute of limitations. The expectation is that charges will be brought in both state and federal courts.
Fraud/Waste Price Tag at over $300 billion
The problem of fraud is not confined to Illinois, as a recent analysis by the Associated Press estimated that over $280 billion of COVID-19 relief money was outright stolen, with another estimated $123 billion either wasted or misspent, with numbers expected to rise with further investigations. Some individuals were quickly caught, often due to the brazenness of their fraud/actions following the disbursement of money to fund extravagant lifestyles, but investigations will continue into others who were more careful to cover their tracks. The Small Business Administration, responsible for doling out $169 billion in disaster loans between March 2020 and July 2020, currently has over 80,000 actionable leads to investigate. As the backlog of investigative leads is handled, expect more headlines of criminal charges surrounding this and various other pandemic related relief programs. The federal government is being aided by and using various sophisticated resources to actively track and investigate potential fraud.
There may be various signs that you could be subject to a criminal investigation related to the application or receipt of pandemic relief programs funds. For example, when law enforcement uses a grand jury to subpoena internet service providers when investigating who might subscribe to internet services that they know was used to apply for loans, you might get notice that a subpoena was received, and you’ll have a short window of opportunity to challenge the release of information. Other times you might receive notice of a closed or frozen bank account. Or the most obvious would be the receipt of a grand jury subpoena or “target letter” from the United States Attorney’s office or other arms of law enforcement. If you have received any indication that you are the subject or target of a criminal investigation or have been charged with a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney experienced with pandemic relief fraud investigations and a documented history of successfully representing individuals charged with financial crimes.