The White House on Wednesday downplayed a U.S. Secret Service estimate that some $100 billion, at least, has been ripped off from COVID-19 relief fund programs, with one official suggesting the estimate stems from old information.
“There is no new research, data or analysis of fraud here,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki when she was asked to comment on the Secret Service estimate.
The agency told The Associated Press on Tuesday that its estimate comes from agency cases as well as information gathered from the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service told the AP that the agency was standing by its information and had no intention of amending a statement posted to the agency’s website. However, a clarification note was added, explaining that the figure comes from data supplied by the Labor Dept. and the SBA and that the Secret Service would not be publishing a new report.
“There isn’t a correction to be made, we just explicitly posted on the release’s webpage the same info we discussed yesterday,” said Justine Whelan, a spokesperson for the Secret Service, wrote in an email to the AP.
Psaki, meanwhile, claimed that “there was just an adding up” of a pair of old reports regarding common issues facing small business loans and unemployment insurance payments.
“It’s also important to note that even those two older analyses combined payments that include mistakes in over and under payments but it was a reference to two older IG reports,” she said.
The AP noted that the Secret Service did not include in its estimate coronavirus fraud cases that have been prosecuted by the Justice Department. The programs were established by Congress to provide financial relief for businesses and individuals who lost jobs due to pandemic-related closures and shutdowns.
Roy Dotson, the newly appointed COVID-19 fraud recovering coordinator for the Secret Service, told the AP Tuesday that “the sheer size of the pot is enticing to the criminals,” noting that the agency’s $100 billion estimate is about three percent of some $3.4 trillion in disbursed funds.
Most of the amount stems from unemployment insurance fraud, the AP added.
“The Secret Service said it has seized more than $1.2 billion while investigating unemployment insurance and loan fraud and has returned more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds by working with financial partners and states to reverse transactions,” reported the newswire.
“The Secret Service says it has more than 900 active criminal investigations into pandemic fraud, with cases in every state, and 100 people have been arrested so far,” AP added.
In announcements last week, the Justice Department noted that its fraud section has prosecuted more than 150 defendants in some 95 criminal cases, seizing in excess of $75 million in cash that came from illicitly obtained funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.
In addition, several real estate properties and luxury items were bought with the ill-gotten proceeds.
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