You do not need to fight federal coronavirus fraud charges alone. Our highly skilled Rhode Island Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys at Marin and Barrett, Inc. are here to help you fight allegations of COVID-19 related fraud. There are time tested and proven defenses and strategies to fight federal fraud charges including recent accusations of coronavirus fraud.
If you have been arrested or indicted in Rhode Island on fraud charges related to the coronavirus (COVID-19), it is important to seek experienced legal advice as soon as possible. Our experienced federal criminal defense attorneys will meet with you and confidentially discuss the facts of your case, any legal or constitutional defenses you may have and your best strategy going forward. We have handled many similar cases and can put our experience and knowledge to work for you right away.
Rhode Island Federal Coronavirus Fraud Lawyers
Attorneys Barrett, Marin and Parrillo
Contact Us Today to Start Fighting Back - Available 24/7 at 401-380-6724
What is Federal Coronavirus (Covid-19) related fraud?
In response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the United States Department of Justice has begun to aggressively prosecute individuals believed to have committed fraud by exploiting the pandemic.
Specifically, fraudulent schemes arising from the Coronavirus pandemic such as: identity theft, bank fraud, wire fraud, computer related fraud, health care fraud and mail fraud have been flagged for aggressive investigation and prosecution by federal law enforcement officials.
What qualifies as Federal Coronavirus fraud?
While there is no actual federal “Coronavirus fraud” statute, there is a fraud statute (18 U.S.C. Section 1340) that details fraud associated with major disasters or emergency benefits.
To be more precise, (18 U.S.C. Section 1340) makes it a crime to knowingly falsify/conceal/trick/scheme or make a material false/fraudulent statement or representation in any matter involving benefits authorized, transported, transmitted, transferred, disbursed or paid in connection with a major disaster declaration (Rhode Island was declared to be a major disaster area in connection with Coronavirus Disease 2019 on March 30, 2020).
Additionally, the federal fraud statutes (18 U.S.C. Section 1341 and 1343) provide federal law enforcement with the ability to prosecute persons exploiting the Coronavirus pandemic using mail or wire communications. This includes persons who use intentional deception or misrepresentation arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic that is used to benefit them or someone else.
There are several other federal statutes that criminalize fraudulent acts. Two of the more notable types of fraud that law enforcement agencies are focused on with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic are bank fraud and identity theft
What is federal bank fraud? How does bank fraud relate to the Coronavirus pandemic?
Under the federal bank fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1344, it is unlawful to knowingly execute, or attempt to execute a scheme to defraud a financial institution, or to obtain any money/assets/funds/securities/credits or other property under the control or custody of a financial institution by false pretenses, representations, or promises.
Opportunities for bank fraud across the country will naturally increase as a result of record unemployment and other financial uncertainties. To help American citizens and the general economy and as a result of Coronavirus Disease 2019, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act to provide relief to small businesses. The disbursement of billions of dollars in grants and loans to small businesses through community and national banks in a relatively fast timeframe (with little oversight) will help the economy and individuals but it also presents the opportunity for fraudulent behavior.
Consider this scenario: You've been running a small business for many years, but due to the Coronavirus your business is shutdown and you are have no way to pay your bills. You do not want the business to go under and you do not want to file for bankruptcy. Your only option is to obtain a CARES Act bank loan to get you by until the pandemic subsides and the economy reopens. However, you don't meet the eligibility requirements for the application. Worried that you will not get approved for the loan, you falsify the details of your loan application to make sure you are approved, using fake employee names, an inflated expense report, and a fraudulent payroll log.
What may have been well-intentioned by falsifying information on a loan application, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance (“EIDL”), can lead to an arrest and charge of bank fraud under 18 U.S.C. Section 1344.
Additionally, the False Claim Act (“FCA”) 31 U.S.C. Section 3729(a)(1)(A), makes it a crime to for a person to knowingly submits a false claim to the government or causes another to submit a false claim to the government or knowingly makes a false record or statement to get a false claim paid by the government.
What is federal identity theft? Aggravated identity theft? How do they relate to the Coronavirus pandemic?
The federal identity theft statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1028 makes it a crime to knowingly and without lawful authority produce, transfer, or possess with intent to unlawfully use an identification document, authentication feature, or a false identification document (i.e. birth certificate, passport, or Social Security card).
Aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. Section 1028A, is similar to “general” identity theft but the main difference is that it makes it a crime to knowingly and without lawful authority produce, transfer, or possess a means of identification of another.
In response to stimulus checks being disbursed by CARES Act, the IRS and law enforcement agencies have cautioned recipients to be aware of scammers portraying as legitimate resources in attempts to obtain individuals personal identifying information. “Robocalls” purporting to have the ability to obtain stimulus checks earlier and social media messages asking for personal information are two methods that the IRS and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) criminal divisions are monitoring and investigating for potential aggravated identity theft.
Can you go to jail for federal bank fraud or identity theft?
Yes. The US Attorney General, William Barr, recently issued a memo to U.S. Department of Justice Attorneys, commenting that “the [Coronavirus] pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated" and vowed to “aggressively pursue bad actors”.
How do you prove federal bank fraud? How do you prove federal identity theft?
To prove bank fraud, the US Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual (or a corporation):
- Executed or attempted to execute a scheme, substantially as charged in the indictment, to defraud a financial institution [or to obtain a financial institution's money by means of false or fraudulent pretenses];
- Knowingly and willfully participated in this scheme with the intent to defraud [or to obtain money by means of false or fraudulent pretenses];
- The financial institution was federally insured, a federal reserve bank or a member of the Federal Reserve System.
To prove identity theft, the US Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual:
- Knowingly and without lawful authority;
- Produced, transferred, or possessed with intent to unlawfully use an identification document, authentication feature, or a false identification document;
- Of another person (aggravated identity theft).
Is federal bank fraud or federal identity theft a felony?
Yes, both bank fraud and identity theft are federal felony crimes, which means that they carry a maximum prison sentence greater than one year.
What is the punishment for federal bank fraud? For federal identity theft?
The federal bank fraud statute carries a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in federal prison, a fine of up to $1,000,000, or both prison and fine. The maximum penalty for identity theft is 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 ($500,000 for an organization) or both prison and a fine.
How long do you go to jail for federal bank fraud? For federal identity theft?
The length of time that an individual can go to prison varies widely. Many factors play a role in the time an individual could be sentenced prison, including: the amount of money/property fraudulently obtained, the length of the scheme, the criminal history of the defendant, whether the defendant cooperated with the prosecution, and other factors contribute to a sentence. Each of these factors are contemplated in conjunction with the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which play a large role in the determination of a jail sentence for bank fraud and identity theft.
What are the federal bank fraud statute and identity theft statutes?
The bank fraud statute is 18 U.S.C. Section 1344. The identity theft and aggravated identity theft statutes are 18 U.S.C. Section 1028 and 1028A, respectively.
What is the minimum sentence for bank fraud and identity theft?
There is no “mandatory minimum”* prison sentence for bank fraud unlike other federal crimes. In fact, in some instances, judges have sentenced defendants found to be guilty of mail fraud and wire fraud to probation and/or community confinement instead of jail.
There is no mandatory minimum sentence for identity theft but there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years for aggravated identity theft.
What is conspiracy to commit federal bank fraud or identity theft?
In general, a conspiracy is when two or more persons conspire or work/plan together to bring about a particular result. With respect to bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349 makes it a separate crime from bank fraud (under 18 U.S.C. 1344) to conspire to commit bank fraud. This means that in addition to being charged with bank fraud, a person could also be separately charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud if the fraudulent act was committed in conjunction with one or more persons.
The full text of 18 U.S.C. 1349, states, “any person who attempts or conspires to commit [bank fraud] shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.
With respect to identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028 makes it a separate crime from identity theft to conspire to commit identity theft.
The full text of 18 U.S.C. 1028, states, any person who attempts or conspires to commit [identity theft] shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.
This means the penalties include a maximum prison sentence of 30 years for bank fraud and 20 years for identity theft.
How has the federal government responded to fraud cases during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Aggressively. In fact, on March 16, 2020, the US Attorney General, William Barr sent a memo out to U.S. Attorneys reminding them to remain vigilant in investigating, detecting, and prosecuting healthcare fraud. As a result, numerous arrests have occurred since the start of the pandemic. Some of the notable cases are listed below.
COVID-19 Fraud Cases
March 25, 2020 – California, Central District: Southland Man Arrested on Federal Charges Alleging Fraudulent Investment Scheme Featuring Bogus Claims of COVID-19 Cure
March 22, 2020 – Texas, Western District: Justice Department Files its First Enforcement Action against COVID-19 Fraud
Rhode Island Federal COVID-19 Fraud Lawyers: What Can We Do For You?
If you have been charged in Rhode Island Federal Court with fraud related to the coronavirus, it is extremely important to seek experienced legal advice as soon as possible. Our experienced R.I. federal criminal defense attorneys will meet with you and confidentially discuss the facts of your case, any legal or constitutional defenses you may have, and your best strategy moving forward. We have handled many similar fraud cases and can put our experience and knowledge to work for you right away. We are available 24/7 for a no obligation defense strategy session. Call us today at 401-380-6724.