Nearly two dozen people have been arrested for a series of COVID-related schemes that led to more than $149 million in losses.
The United States Justice Department announced the charges Wednesday, detailing a handful of cons allegedly carried out by the defendants. Officials say many of the suspects were medical field workers who “placed greed above care during an unprecedented public health emergency.”
The DOJ claims some of the defendants were involved in selling falsified vaccination cards, misappropriating funds that were intended for frontline medical providers, and defrauding Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars with bogus claims connected to COVID tests. One of the arrestees, who was identified as the Director of Pharmacy at a California hospital, allegedly used her resources to obtain vaccine lot numbers, which she used to falsify vaccination cards. Another defendant was charged with the distribution of fake vaccination records, and reportedly told an undercover federal agent, “until I get caught and go to jail, [expletive] it I’m taking the money, ha! I don’t care.”
According to authorities, some of the alleged fraudsters laundered their proceeds through U.S. shell corporations, transferred the funds to foreign banks, and then used the money to make extravagant purchases, including luxury goods and real estate.
“This COVID-19 health care fraud enforcement action involves extraordinary efforts to prosecute some of the largest and most wide-ranging pandemic frauds detected to date,” Director for COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Kevin Chambers said in a statement. “The scale and complexity of the schemes prosecuted today illustrates the success of our unprecedented interagency effort to quickly investigate and prosecute those who abuse our critical health care programs.”
The DOJ says the 21 individuals were arrested over the past week across eight states, including New York, California, New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida. A number of the defendants have pleaded guilty.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen trusted medical professionals orchestrate and carry out egregious crimes against their patients all for financial gain,” said Luis Quesada, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “These health care fraud abuses erode the integrity and trust patients have with those in the health care industry, particularly during a vulnerable and worrisome time for many individuals. The actions of these criminals are unacceptable, and the FBI, working in coordination with our law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate and pursue those who exploit the integrity of the health care industry for profit.”
The DOJ said its team has seized more than $8 million in fraud proceeds from the investigation.