03/31/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/31/2020 17:20
SHREVEPORT/LAFAYETTE/ALEXANDRIA/LAKE CHARLES/MONROE, La. - In response to the evidence that fraud schemes are being developed around the country to exploit the coronavirus epidemic, U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph announced today that he has formed a task force in the Western District of Louisiana to identify, investigate, prosecute, and dismantle fraud schemes designed to unlawfully profit from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Western District of Louisiana's COVID-19 Fraud Task Force (Task Force) brings together multiple federal investigative agencies under the leadership of the U.S. Attorney's Office to share and receive intelligence related to the scams being perpetrated on-line and in-person by individuals seeking to exploit the evolving public health crisis. The Task Force will then marshal the collective investigative power of our federal law enforcement agencies by forming joint investigative teams to work with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The Task Force will be led by the U.S. Attorney's Office COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth D. Reeg. The Task Force members include representatives from the United States Attorney's Office, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General, U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Criminal Investigations, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations/ Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Veteran's Administration - Office of Inspector General, United States Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Trade Commission, and the Small Business Administration - Office of Inspector General.
'The public should know that my office remains fully operational during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be focusing on those who seek to unlawfully exploit others during this difficult time,' said U.S. Attorney Joseph. 'The last thing our community needs as we come together to fight this pandemic are certain individuals among us preying upon the fears of others for financial gain. Through the formation of this Task Force, federal prosecutors from my office will collaborate on a daily basis with investigators to identify, investigate, and aggressively prosecute those attempting to profit from this emergency. I want to thank all of the agencies and federal agents that are joining us in this effort - each of which brings considerable expertise to the fight.'
The Task Force will review and investigate all credible leads of fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on those hoarding or price-gouging critical medical supplies and schemes designed to exploit vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those who may be more susceptible to the disease due to pre-existing health conditions. The Task Force will also prioritize schemes that have the potential to endanger public health and safety. AUSA Reeg will meet and confer with agency counterparts on a regular basis to prioritize cases and surge resources where needed.
Some examples of COVID-19 scams include:
U.S. Attorney Joseph urges everyone, especially those most at risk of serious illness, to avoid these and similar scams by taking the following steps:
Leaders from the federal law enforcement agencies participating in the Task Force provided the following comments in support of the mission:
'Even through a worldwide pandemic, the FBI remains steadfast in our mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution,' said Special Agent in Charge Bryan A. Vorndran of the FBI New Orleans Field Office. 'Special Agents and Analysts of the WDLA COVID-19 Task Force are committed to investigating all forms of COVID-19 fraud committed on Louisiana residents. Any company or individual who attempts to defraud our residents and steal their money during this national crisis will be investigated and brought to justice.'
According to Joseph Cuffari, PhD., Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, 'The theft of FEMA funds resulting from COVID-19 schemes or false claims result in losses not only to the U.S. Taxpayer, but also to the actual victims who needed those funds to recover. Working with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General will continue our commitment to identify and aggressively investigate allegations of fraud. Theft of funds from DHS programs intended to help those in need will not be tolerated.'
'The FDA is fully committed to working with our federal partners to protect Americans from fraudulent and potentially dangerous medical products being marketed and distributed to Americans for the treatment or diagnosis of COVID-19. We will continue to take appropriate action to protect consumers from bad actors who take advantage of a crisis and place profits ahead of the public health,' said Judith A. McMeekin, Pharm.D., Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
'Our HSI agents are deeply committed to the safety of the American public, whether it's investigating and dismantling human trafficking operations or ensuring our medical communities are receiving legitimate medical equipment and supplies to combat the spread of Covid-19,' said New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Jere T. Miles. 'Those who would use this pandemic to defraud their neighbors, friends, and communities for their own financial gain - we will be looking for you and we will find you.'
'The VA Office of Inspector General is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the public funds and medical resources intended to treat all veterans, including those impacted by COVID-19, and is pleased to join the U.S. Attorney's Office and other federal law enforcement agencies in establishing this partnership.' - James Ross, Special Agent in Charge, VA Office of Inspector General, South Central Field Office.
If you believe you have been a target or victim of a scam or fraud or have knowledge of any hoarding or price-gouging of critical medical supplies, you can report it without leaving your home, to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or via email at [email protected].
The Western District of Louisiana Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, AUSA Seth Reeg, can be reached at: (318) 676-3600.
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