PHOENIX — Across the country, the pandemic has ushered in a shopping spree for alleged crooks who are accused of lying to obtain Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
A Florida businessman bought a new Lamborghini. A Washington D.C.-area Catholic school administrator bought a yacht. Four friends in Los Angeles bought millions of dollars worth of gold coins, diamonds and cryptocurrency. An Arizona couple purchased a million-dollar home in Mexico.
All of them are accused of falsifying PPP applications to collect cash from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice has announced more than 100 indictments involving PPP fraud and many more prosecutions are expected.
“It’s not surprising. Any time you see that kind of money being injected into the economy there are going to be people who try to take advantage of it,” said Jonathan Green of the Arnold & Porter law firm. Green’s practice focuses on securities enforcement, white collar criminal defense and anti-corruption.
What’s unclear is whether the federal government has enough resources to properly investigate all COVID fraud suspects. The PPP program doled out more than 12 million loans, totaling more than $8 billion.
“Law enforcement is always to going have resources issues, there’s always a limit to what we’re going to spend on law enforcement,” Green said.
A spokesperson for the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on available resources to prosecute PPP fraud. Locally, the office has announced about a dozen indictments.
Investigating PPP fraud involves several agencies, including the Treasury Department, the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service.
Federal investigators rely heavily on banks to turn over evidence of fraud. Green believes banks are cooperating because, in his words, they have no interest or desire to see these federal loans misused.
“A lot of the initial investigations and a lot of the initial legwork is actually being done by the private banking sector providing that information to the federal government,” Green said.
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