JAY WEAVER, 26 March 2021
A year ago, Congress agreed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on benefits for small businesses and employees devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Of course, the government’s handout helped the struggling economy. But it also opened the door for a menagerie of con artists to fleece the federal relief program to get rich quick.
Among them: a South Florida man alleged to have bought a Lamborghini for $318,000 with millions in COVID-19 relief loans; a Broward County tax preparer who purportedly pocketed huge commissions for filing $28 million worth of phony business loan applications; and a former NFL player from Miami accused of stealing people’s identities to collect $300,000 in unemployment insurance benefits.
As the nation’s No. 1 fraud capital, South Florida led the financial crime wave that followed the passage of the CARES Act, a group of federal law enforcement officials acknowledged Friday. They highlighted dozens of new and old COVID-19 criminal cases to draw attention to the escalating problem. Over the past year, South Florida’s federal prosecutors have filed 38 criminal cases with $75 million in fraudulent COVID-19 relief claims — the highest number of any region in the country.
U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan lamented the region’s dubious reputation while condemning criminals who steal from the taxpayer-funded relief program at the expense of legitimate businesses and employees desperately trying to stay afloat.