January 22, 2022

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Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt Delivers Remarks at the PPP Criminal Fraud Enforcement Action Press Conference

27 min read
<div>Over the course of the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across our country and presented unprecedented challenges for ordinary Americans from all walks of life. </div>

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you for joining us today.

Over the course of the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across our country and presented unprecedented challenges for ordinary Americans from all walks of life. 

In addition to inflicting a devastating toll in terms of human lives lost, the pandemic has caused widespread economic disruption that has harmed countless American businesses and American workers. 

Despite these challenges, the Administration has taken a number of important steps to combat the pandemic and the economic crisis it caused. 

On March 27th of this year, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law a sweeping set of relief measures in the CARES Act. 

As part of the CARES Act, the federal government made hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans available to American businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. 

These PPP loans were made available to businesses so they would have funds available to keep paying their workers, in order to avoid catastrophic job losses during a time of national emergency.

As President Trump made clear when he signed the CARES Act into law, the PPP was intended to provide a much-needed lifeline to American businesses and American workers who – through no fault of their own – were suffering terribly during this national emergency.

By the time the PPP closed to new applications on August 8th, over 5.2 million loans had been approved, for a total in excess of $525 billion. 

These loans were made to businesses in virtually all sectors of the economy, from manufacturing and construction to health care, education, and the arts. 

These loans allowed American businesses to keep paying their employees and, in turn, allowed those employees to continue paying their rent, mortgages, and other bills, and to continue putting food on the table.

The PPP represented critical help at a critical time.  

Unfortunately, almost every crisis brings out not only those who seek to help others, but also those who try to exploit the situation for their own unlawful purposes and financial gain. 

Early on, Attorney General Barr recognized that the pandemic would present fraudsters and other bad actors with a unique opportunity to take advantage of the crisis, and he directed the Department of Justice to take swift action to protect law-abiding Americans. 

At Attorney General Barr’s direction, the Department of Justice has taken a number of important steps to combat pandemic-related fraud.

One area of particular focus has been the PPP program.  Experience has taught us that any time the federal government makes a large amount of money available to the public on an expedited basis, the opportunities for fraud are clear. 

The Criminal Division – and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section in particular – moved quickly to combat fraud in connection with the PPP program. 

We set up a team dedicated to PPP fraud, began investigating almost immediately, and brought our first cases within months of the PPP being announced, and while loans were still being made. 

We did this not only to protect the integrity of the PPP and the taxpayer funds it was disbursing, but also to send a message of deterrence to would-be fraudsters – while loans were still being made – that the Department was standing watch and would move aggressively to prosecute those who defrauded this critical program.

We are here today to announce a key milestone in the Criminal Division’s efforts to combat pandemic-related fraud by holding accountable those who sought to abuse the PPP. 

Today the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, along with our law enforcement partners on this stage, are announcing that as a result of law enforcement operations in the past few days – and indeed just within the past few hours – the Criminal Division has now criminally charged more than 50 people who allegedly committed fraud to obtain money from the PPP. 

This impressive number is in addition to a number of other cases that have been brought by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country, with the Criminal Division’s help and support. Those offices have been an important part of the Department’s efforts as well.

Joining me on stage today to make this important announcement are a number of key partners who have been integral to this effort, including representatives from the FBI, the SBA’s Office of Inspector General, the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Offices of Inspectors General from the FDIC and the FHFA.  You will hear from them shortly.

Before that, let me take a moment to briefly mention some of the individuals charged in recent days that have taken us past this important milestone of 50 charged defendants.

Yesterday, our law enforcement partners arrested defendant Tiara Walker in Miami, who is alleged to have been part of a criminal ring that attempted to steal $24 million of PPP funds.  Another member of that ring, defendant Joshua Bellamy, was arrested this morning in Miami.

Just a few hours ago, charges were unsealed against seven other individuals alleged to have been part of a criminal ring attempting to steal and launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in PPP funds. 

Separately, law enforcement partners this morning arrested defendants Larry Jordan and Sutukh El in Buffalo, New York, who are alleged to have tried to steal $7.6 million of PPP funds.  

Now it is of course important to remember in announcing these charges that they are merely allegations; each charged defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 

As I mentioned, these charges, in conjunction with charges previously brought by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section since early May of this year, bring the total number of defendants charged with PPP-related fraud by the Criminal Division to 57.

The numbers are revealing. 

The cases we have charged involve attempts to steal over $175 million from the PPP.

And actual losses to the federal government of over $70 million. 

Through our efforts to date, we have been able to recover or freeze over $30 million, and we expect to add to that total in the future as we seize additional funds and liquidate assets purchased with PPP funds.

Our cases are diverse in size and scope, involving fraud ranging from loan requests for just $30,000 to approximately $24 million. 

And they span the country: we have brought charges in no fewer than 19 federal judicial districts.  These are not simple or easy cases to investigate and charge. 

They are white-collar matters.  They often involve obtaining and then piecing together often-complex financial, payroll, and tax records for individuals and companies, and sifting through other evidence. 

This makes it all the more remarkable that the Department has been able to bring so many cases so quickly and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our attorneys, agents, and partners across the U.S. government. 

I would like to take a moment to explain the two general categories into which you’ll see our PPP cases fall.

This first category involves individuals – or small groups – who lied about having legitimate businesses, or who claimed they needed PPP money for things like paying their workers, but instead used it to buy splashy luxury items for themselves. 

As we allege in our charging documents, these defendants used lies to obtain millions of dollars in PPP funds and then spent those funds on things like luxury cars, homes, renovations, jewelry — and even adult entertainment and gambling in Las Vegas. 

The second category of cases that I’d like to focus on are the coordinated criminal rings that have engaged in systematic, organized conduct to loot the PPP. 

The involvement of these rings is unsurprising, but it is particularly troubling, and we will be focusing on these types of cases going forward.

As an example, we recently filed charges in Cleveland and Miami against 11 individuals, including a professional athlete and his business manager. 

This group of defendants allegedly worked in concert to try to obtain a total of $24 million in PPP funds using falsified records and fraudulent application materials. 

As an example of the teamwork involved here, to unravel this case, the Fraud Section partnered with (1) the FBI; (2) the Internal Revenue Service, Office of Criminal Investigations; (3) the Small Business Administration’s Office of the Inspector General; and (4) the FDIC’s Office of the Inspector General, as well as the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Northern District of Ohio and the Southern District of Florida. 

As I mentioned, these law enforcement organizations and our U.S. Attorneys have been critical partners to the Criminal Division as it leads this effort, and we expect our joint work to continue going forward.

As you can see from our charging documents, these cases are of all different types and sizes.  

While we’ve taken aim at a wide variety of schemes in these cases, there are a few common threads that I’d like to highlight today.

First are the brazen, bold, and simply false representations we allege the defendants made in their applications for PPP funds. 

These alleged misrepresentations typically centered on the nature and existence of the businesses the defendants were claiming to need funds for and included misrepresentations about things like the number of employees they had, their average monthly revenue and payroll figures, and the applicants’ criminal backgrounds. 

And in many cases these defendants didn’t stop at simply making false statements, but rather tried to back up their alleged lies with fake documents, like falsified tax records, dummy payroll and revenue records, and in some cases even stolen personal information from unsuspecting third parties. 

Another common thread among these cases is the defendants’ use of their stolen PPP funds for entirely illegitimate purposes. 

We allege that many of these defendants took the relief money offered by the PPP and spent it on things having absolutely nothing to do with relief — often on luxury items for themselves, their families, and their friends such as cars, jewelry, travel, and other personal expenses. 

For example, in late July, we charged David Hines of Miami with fraudulently obtaining almost $4 million in PPP funds and using them, in part, to buy an exotic, $320,000 Lamborghini sports car.

And in August, we charged five defendants with fraudulently obtaining millions in PPP funds and using them, in part, to buy a luxury Mercedes, a Range Rover, and $125,000 in jewelry.

PPP funds were intended to help keep American businesses afloat.

They were intended to help ordinary, everyday Americans pay their bills and put food on the table. 

I can assure you they were not intended to help support fraudsters’ dreams of owning Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, Range Rovers, or diamond jewelry.

A third key point to remember is an obvious one:

The money these defendants stole was taxpayer money. 

Every dollar received was a dollar drawn from the American people’s account. 

Even worse, every dollar they took was a dollar set aside to help our fellow Americans weather one of the worst national crises in recent history. 

And as we allege, these defendants tried to steal it for themselves.

And a fourth key point is that in each and every one of these cases, the success of the defendant’s fraudulent loan application meant that there were fewer funds available at that time in the PPP for legitimate businesses that were in genuine need of support. 

You don’t need to look very far in the press to see reports of the unbelievable pace at which PPP loans were snapped up. 

The program was so popular, the initial tranche of funds was quickly exhausted and Congress had to re-authorize the program, making billions more dollars available in additional loan funds.

This program was popular because American businesses and American workers needed the money to pay their bills.   And they needed that help quickly.

But these defendants decided that they wanted the money to line their pockets instead. 

By doing so, they prevented or delayed other businesses with legitimate needs from accessing these critical funds.

These cases are tremendously important for many reasons, especially during this period of national emergency. 

And there are some critical aspects of our investigation and prosecution of these cases which bear highlighting.

First is the unparalleled speed with which these cases have been investigated and prosecuted. 

The PPP hasn’t even been in existence for six months, yet we are here today announcing that more than 50 defendants have been charged. 

Our efforts began the very same day the SBA launched the PPP, with the formal creation of a team in the Fraud Section under the leadership of Fraud Section Chief Rob Zink devoted to PPP-related investigations and prosecutions. 

Our prosecutors, and the group of agencies represented on this stage, moved quickly to establish law enforcement partnerships, obtain critical data and evidence, and take concrete and affirmative steps to identify fraud committed on the PPP. 

Just one month later the Division brought the very first series of PPP-related fraud cases. 

This pace is, to our knowledge, without precedent in the history of the Department’s white-collar criminal enforcement efforts. 

Second, I’d like to highlight the Division’s use of data analytics to develop these cases so quickly.

As I mentioned before, there were over 5.2 million PPP loans made.

To bring these cases as quickly as we have, and to sort through the volume of loans made by the SBA, the Fraud Section and its partners deployed the first-in-class data analytics capabilities they have developed and employed to great effect in other criminal investigative areas, such as health care fraud and market manipulation. 

The Fraud Section has truly become a market leader in its use and development of these techniques, and here again we see their potential. 

Another key component of our ability to bring these cases so quickly has been our use of public-private partnerships to maximize our awareness and visibility of suspicious conduct and our collection of critical evidence. 

Many financial institutions have been strong partners in assisting us in detecting and investigating potentially fraudulent activity in connection with the PPP and other government aid programs and safeguarding taxpayer dollars by freezing funds and accounts.  

I would like to thank them for their help and support.

Finally, I would like to highlight the whole-of-government approach that we have employed in bringing these cases.  This is not only reflected by the agencies represented here before you today, but by our U.S. Attorney partners and others, who have enabled the nationwide scope of these efforts. 

I’ll note, in particular, our partners here on stage, who you will hear from in a minute. 

It would not have been possible to stand up this program so quickly, or to investigate and charge so many cases so fast, without their assistance.

This has truly been a team effort, and so I want to thank all of you and your respective teams for everything you have done to achieve these results on this incredibly fast timetable for the American people.

Now, these 50-plus cases are significant in and of themselves, but you should also know that there is more to come. 

Our work is ongoing.  We are not done yet. 

The agencies represented behind me and prosecutors here in the Criminal Division are working tirelessly to help during this time of national emergency by bringing accountability to those who would victimize the American people. 

And I should point out that these cases are not brought at a time when the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section prosecutors are sitting idle. 

As you may know, the Fraud Section has charged a record number of individual and corporate criminal cases and resolved a record number of corporate cases over the past three years. 

We’ve been incredibly busy policing the markets and holding individual and corporate wrongdoers accountable for their misconduct. 

Just this year – despite the challenges COVID-19 has posed to our investigations – the Fraud Section alone has announced criminal charges against more than 125 individual defendants. 

With respect to corporate crime, the Fraud Section this year has resolved seven corporate criminal cases and imposed over $940 million in corporate criminal monetary payments here in the U.S., with worldwide monetary penalties, restitution, and disgorgement totaling over $4.5 billion. 

And there will be much more to come between now and year’s end, both with respect to individual and corporate criminal accountability. 

So again, my thanks to everyone here today for their work.

I would also like to thank, in particular, Attorney General Barr for his leadership on this issue.  He quickly recognized the significant potential for COVID-related fraud, and he directed us to bring the Department’s resources to bear to help the American people.  We have done so. 

Today is a significant milestone.  But we have much more to do, and we are fortunate to have such a dedicated and talented team in place.

And let me just end by with what I hope will be an unmistakable message to those who might consider abusing programs like the PPP that provide critical lifelines for American business and American workers:

You will be identified.  You will be held accountable.  You will face the severest of consequences for trying to exploit your fellow Americans’ suffering for your own personal gain. 

The Department of Justice, with our partners across government, will continue to use every tool available to us to ensure the integrity of the relief provided by the government to this unprecedented national emergency.  The American people deserve nothing less. 

I’d now like to hand it over to Rob Zink, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General overseeing the Fraud Section, and the leader of our work in this area, to say a few words.

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