- Covid crooks managed to pillage over $280 billion in government aid, according to analysis
- Thieves raked in millions while living lives of luxury, splashing money on Alpaca farms, Lamborghinis and even a private island
- The loss represents close to ten percent of the $4.3 trillion the government disbursed to mitigate the devastation wrought by the pandemic
Covid crooks plundered over $280 billion of federal aid during the pandemic and used their newfound fortunes to snap up luxury homes, Lamborghinis, diamond jewelry – and even a private tropical island.
Thousands of thieves perpetrated the greatest grift in U.S. history by stealing the eyewatering figure, with another $123 billion either wasted or misspent.
According to analysis by the Associated Press, the loss represents close to ten percent of the $4.3 trillion the government disbursed to mitigate the devastation wrought by the pandemic.
The fraud cases present a picture of thieves who spent lavishly on homes, luxury goods, diamond jewelry, Lamborghinis and even a tropical island in Florida.
In January of this year, Patrick Parker Walsh was jailed for five and a half years after stealing close to $8 million that he used to help buy Sweetheart Island.
Walsh submitted more than 30 fraudulent applications for emergency pandemic aid and received $7.8 million, according to the Justice Department.
Between March 2020 and January 2021, Walsh had filed requests for the loans which he used to help buy Sweetheart Island in Florida.
Walsh pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud and one charge of money laundering last August as part of a plea deal, before he was sentenced in January.
Walsh had operated a largely successful blimp business, but clients began to bail after one crashed during the 2017 U.S. Open golf tournament.
His attorneys wrote in court filings that to stay afloat he obtained high-interest loans that allowed him to expand the business, but the pandemic ‘killed’ his company.
Between March 2020 and January 2021, Walsh set out to then exploit the federal aid on offer, which prosecutors said his company should have only qualified for a ‘small subset’ of those loans.
In court papers, prosecutors slammed Walsh for his crimes, saying they had been ‘egregious and the product of greed’.
His attorneys said in a court filing that he wasn’t motivated by avarice, but desperation.
Walsh was under enormous pressure to rescue his businesses and to support his large family, they wrote. He has 11 children.
Despite this, U.S. District Judge Allen C. Winsor didn’t buy his remarks, saying in sentencing that it was not ‘a single moment of weakness’.
As part of his plea deal, Walsh agreed to return the $7.8 million he stole and to sell Sweetheart Island, which was among his first purchases with the stolen federal money, according to the court records.
Prosecutors said Walsh used $90,000 of those funds to help finance the $116,000 island purchase.
Florida property records show that the island was sold for $200,000 at the end of June.
Walsh’s attorneys said he didn´t buy the island as a ‘tropical paradise for entertainment’ but as a real estate opportunity.
They did not explain how the businessman would have transformed the isolated isle into a profit center.
While being sentenced, WUSF reported that Walsh choked back tears saying: ”I tell my children that it’s in the moments when no one is watching that you can measure a man’s character. Unfortunately for me, when I was in that situation, I failed.’
Walsh is just one of thousands of individuals who capitalized on the seemingly free money.
DailyMail.com had originally reported that the total spent by fraudsters was as high as $135billion after a government study.
But the analysis by the Associated Press puts the figure at over $280 billion, which is expected to grow as investigators dig deeper.
The Justice Department announced in August that they had charged some 3,195 individuals with offenses related to pandemic fraud.
Erroneous claims on the benefits that were part of trillions sent out during the pandemic represents a large slice of that sample-set, with about 163,000 federal investigations into such allegations open as of June.
States have since reported recovering only about $6.8billion in pandemic-era unemployment overpayments, including $1.2billion deemed fraudulent.
For many, outrageous spending and senseless posts on social media proved to be their undoing – while many of their more modest counterparts likely remain at large.
John Richardson and Micahia spent $2.5 million on cars and jewelry and are currently serving sentences in federal prison for filing bogus claims.
The pair were snapped up back in 2020, after posting pictures of their designer clothes, Lamborghini sports cars, and jewelry online for the world to see.
To get the sum, Richardson and Taylor, either themselves or through others, filed dozens of fraudulent claims in Michigan and across and four other states.
They conspired with former State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency employee Brandi Hawkins to get the payments and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in 2021.
In April 2022, both were hit with stern sentences for taking millions ‘intended to support individuals who lost their jobs during the pandemic’.
Richardson was seen frequently parading a $215K Lamborghini Huracan around the time of the fraud, sentenced to 97 months.
The former owner of a Massachusetts pizza shop was also caught up in false claims, spending $660,000 on a sprawling Alpaca Farm.
Dana McIntyre, the owner of Rasta Pasta Pizzeria, pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering in April.
McIntyre had fraudulently filed for Paycheck Protection Program loans to get the sum.
Feds said he used the loans for personal expenses, among them a purchase of a farm in Vermont, and eight alpacas to put inside of it.
He also purchased with a $14,000 pickup truck, and a vintage car worth $8,500, feds said.
McIntyre was subsequently sentenced to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay $680,000 back to the government.
Investigators won´t catch every crook, the scale and scope of the fraud are too large.
Pandemic cases often depend on digital evidence, which is perishable, and the financial trail can go cold over time, said Bob Westbrooks, former executive director of the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Westbrooks said: ‘The uncomfortable truth is the federal criminal justice system is simply not equipped to fully address the unprecedented volume of pandemic relief fraud cases, large and small, and involving thousands upon thousands of domestic and foreign actors.’
Top Justice Department officials are undeterred by the enormity of the task. They´ve created special strike forces to hunt down COVID-19 aid thieves and vowed not to give up the chase.
‘We´ll stay at it for as long as it takes,’ U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in August.