The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has begun prosecuting individuals for alleged fraudulent schemes designed to exploit the coronavirus pandemic.
In their toolbox, the DOJ have a wide array of tactics, investigators, and means available to combat against what they believe to be fraudulent schemes that are exploiting the virus. The DOJ is cracking down swift and hard on all who they believe to be involved in a worldwide effort to send a simple message: If you try to exploit this pandemic, we will find you and we will prosecute you to the highest levels of punishment available.
Some of the charges the DOJ have already begun prosecuting and indicting individuals of, including doctors, business owners, high-level executives, as well as well-known fraudsters, include wire/mail fraud, telemarketing fraud, internet fraud, bank fraud, identity theft, healthcare fraud (Medicare/Medicaid), major fraud against the United States, false statements, money laundering, and terroristic threats. It is no surprise that the DOJ is relying on them in its crackdown against coronavirus fraud, because federal prosecutors pursue these charges against individuals for alleged fraudulent schemes routinely and effectively.
While the Department of Justice maintains a wide array of powerful means to combat coronavirus fraud, each of which is composed of several elements the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction at trial. Most charges require proof of the alleged fraud, especially, proof that there was a material deception or misrepresentation intended to mislead or deceive another for personal gain.
From there, those federal criminal charges can then be divided further into subcategories depending on the nature of the alleged crime, such as the means used to commit the crime and the intended victims.
Generally, these subcategories of federal criminal charges can be broken down into:
1. Fraudulent schemes designed to deceive individuals using the internet, telephone, or mail;
2. Fraudulent schemes designed to deceive the government;
3. Crimes involving fraud and currency, (e.g. money laundering, forgery); and
4. Other crimes prohibiting conduct that otherwise exploits the COVID-19 outbreak, such as terroristic threat, or essential goods hoarding, or price gouging.
Local, state, federal and foreiegn authorities are collaborating together with private industry at an unprecedented level to identify, investigate and stop COVID-19 fraud and COVID-19 related crimes worldwide. In this international effort, Attorney General Barr announced the Department of Justice’s prioritizing prosecuting COVID-19 fraud and COVID-19 related crimes. Alongside the DOJ, other federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food & Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and Small Business Administration, have also announced alerts warning of coronavirus (COVID-19) fraud and related crimes and have made identifying, investigating and stopping coronavirus (COVID-19) fraud and related crimes an immediate and critical priority.
The CDC is one of the major components to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and it’s mission is to protect America from health, safety, and security threats, both foreign and domestic. The “CDC” stands for “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Visit the CDC website to learn more.
This refers to multiple government bodies, because there are several federal agencies that have a consumer protection branch (“CPB”). The two agencies with CPBs that are most likely to be involved in a coronavirus fraud investigation are the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Both of these divisions bring civil suits seeking civil penalties, such as fines, disgorgement, or an injunction, but they often work in tandem with criminal investigators on the federal and state levels to help collect evidence to be used against a defendant during a criminal prosecution.
The FBI’s IC3 is the FBI’s division tasked specifically with providing a reliable and convenient way for individuals to submit complaints related to suspected criminal activity involving the internet. “IC3” stands for “Internet Crime Complaint Center.” To learn and obtain more information about the division, you can visit the IC3’s website.
The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section is the section in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice tasked with fostering global coordination in combating cybercrime. The section, often abbreviated as “CCIPS,” was created in 2006 and deploys federal attorneys overseas as regional Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordinators, or (“IPLECs”) and since 2015, cyber legal advisors, as well. The CCIPs plays a vital role in training and coordinating the prosecution of international cybercrime.
The National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (“NCTFA”) brings law enforcement, academics, and private industry together to create and share strategic information, resources and intelligence in identifying and stopping cyber threats. They investigate threats dealing with pharmaceutical fraud, stock manipulation schemes, telecommunication scams, spam, and other schemes to commit financial fraud that might result in hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to individual consumers and companies. Created in 1997, the NCTFA has served as the international model for a coordinated effort against cyber criminals.
Often referred to as the “CIRFU,” the Cyber Initiative and Resource Fusion Unit plays a significant role in some of the FBI’s most important investigations in recent years. The CIRFU pools its intelligence from a wide array of sources, including private-sector members of the NCFTA and the IC3. Together, these entities form a large resource of professional and technical knowledge and expertise that has proven effective and vital for investigating international cybercrime.
To read and learn more about the coordinated effort between the FBI, NCFTA, CIRFU, and other key players in the international combat against cybercrime, visit the FBI’s website on cybercrime.
The COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator is a federal prosecutor tasked with identifying and prosecuting fraud schemes related to COVID-19 in their region and appointed by the United States Attorney for that region. For instance, Texas may have a different COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator than California, however, they may work in tandem to build a criminal case against a single individual committing fraud in both states.
The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation (OCI) is a section of the US Food and Drug Administration tasked with conducting criminal investigations related to FDA-regulated products. OCI agents may conduct arrests upon establishing probable cause or obtaining an arrest warrant, but any further criminal proceedings are then taken up by federal prosecutors at the DOJ.
If you were contacted by a federal investigator or already detained you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney who is experienced with COVID-19 fraud and COVID-19 related cases immediately.
If you were notified of a pending criminal investigation, on the other hand, this could mean several things. It generally means the government reasonably suspects you are connected to a crime in some way. This might mean that agents or prosecutors reasonably suspect you possess information or knowledge that might help their investigation in some way. Significantly, this very well might mean that investigators reasonably suspect you committed or are committing a crime and have made you the target or one of the targets of their criminal investigation. In any case, that notice makes you involved in a criminal investigation, and to best ensure your freedom, financial stability and rights remain undisturbed you should seek immediate legal advice from experienced federal fraud defense lawyers on how to best proceed to protect your best evidence and avoid making fatal mistakes.
You should only speak with law enforcement investigator regarding anything related to COVID-19 fraud or any other related crime after you have spoken to a criminal defense lawyer. Period.
Federal investigators are experts in getting answers and possess an extraordinary amount of tools designed to coax those answers out of you. It is there job – plain and simple. The truth is it takes only one split-second mistake or one wrong word to get unnecessarily tied up in a prolonged, possibly years long criminal investigation that will place a heavy financial and time-consuming burden for you, your business, and possibly your loved ones. Do not go swimming with sharks alone and without a cage.
Even if you think you have done nothing wrong, you need to speak with a COVID-19 fraud defense attorney to obtain sound legal advice before you speak with federal investigators.
If federal fraud investigators raided your business, then you are already in the water with the sharks. To lawfully raid any private business, investigators must have established probable cause that a crime was or is being committed there, or specific property connected with a crime is present, most often accomplished by obtaining a search warrant from a federal magistrate judge. If this describes your current situation, you need to seek legal counsel from a defense lawyer that’s experienced in handling federal fraud cases immediately.
Do not speak with any investigators. Do not destroy any documents. Do not run away. Do not move money around. Do not delete video footage. Call an experienced federal fraud defense lawyer now.
If you have been contacted or anticipate contact from federal COVID-19 fraud investigators, then you should contact and speak with a COVID-19 fraud defense lawyer to protect yourself, your freedom, and financial stability. You will not be able to talk yourself out of the crosshairs – you’ll only be wound up in a web of investigation tactics.
A defendant has several possible defenses available in any criminal fraud case, including a case of COVID-19 fraud. These defenses possibly include:
Of course, the strength and availability of each defense varies per case, and determining their availability, viability, and when and how to employ them effectively is one of many of an established and veteran criminal defense attorney specializing in fraud and COVID-19 fraud cases.
Leave the law and fraud investigators to the lawyers with decades of experience handling them.