Sunday, September 25

Covid funds or the robbery of the century in the United States

“I’m at Dior having fun with the money / I’ve gotten rich on the EDD.” “You have to sell cocaine / I’m fine with filling out applications / the bundles come straight to the bank.” “Fuck, this shit is better than passing drugs / I quickly became a fraudster / I was stuck in a cell / Now I sit and wait for an email to arrive.” The verses of the rapper Nuke Bizzle are the portrait of an era in the US: that of fraud with hands full with aid funds to alleviate the Covid-19 pandemic. EDD stands for California Department of Workforce Development, where Nuke Bizzle lived. It is the state body in charge of distributing the additional unemployment subsidies granted in the face of the economic downturn caused by the restrictions to stop the virus. The scam was simple: Impersonate others to apply for and take away a $600 weekly subsidy The scam was simple, as the rapper himself explained in his song: Impersonate others to apply for and take away the $600 weekly subsidy additions granted by the Government. “If you got the name and the number / I got the address / we got it,” he sang. The looting was widespread and went far beyond the strike. Other relief funds, such as the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, were bled by fraudsters. “Nothing like this has ever happened,” Matthew Schneider, a former Michigan prosecutor who now works as a lawyer, told NBC. “It’s the biggest fraud of our time.” Rain of money In March and April 2020, the US economy, like that of much of the rest of the world, came to a screeching halt. The widespread restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19, which was drowning hospitals and saturating morgues, forced the closure of many businesses and sectors. With this, there was a sink in the labor market, with the loss of 21 million jobs in a couple of months. The Government of Donald Trump reacted with stimulus of 3.1 trillion dollars. The following year, with Joe Biden in the White House, another $1.9 trillion was added. Related News standard No A couple abandons their three children and runs away after scamming millions in aid for Covid-19 They left a note for children aged 13, 15 and 16 in which they said “we will be together again one day” News Related The objective was to avoid economic collapse, maintain the purchasing power of families, revive consumption, keep businesses open. They showered Americans with public funds: cash checks for wages of less than $100,000 a year, weeks and weeks of additional benefits for the unemployed, non-refundable loans for small businesses… The money came in abundance, but often it didn’t go to whom. I needed it. Biblical disbursement against the pandemic was carried out in a crazy way, with weak award systems, without strict controls. The economy was in a coma and the priority was for the money to flow. The economic revival was the ‘Wild West’. The result was a large-scale fraud. According to an estimate prepared by the Department of Labor last spring, only in unemployment benefits, 163,000 million dollars escaped from the 900,000 million dedicated to helping the unemployed. 10% of the funds 80,000 million dollars went where they should not The looting in the funds for companies was also enormous. People invented companies, lied about their size, exaggerated the number of employees. At least $80 billion – 10% of the funds – went where they shouldn’t. Many others were wasted in the program to alleviate the economic disaster in companies. The problem is that, in order to open the money tap as quickly as possible, aid applicants had only to say that they needed it. It hardly had to be proven and requests were not thoroughly reviewed. State agencies stopped thousands of applicants, but many took the money. ‘Take the money and run’ was the spirit of those months. And the extravagant cases of fraud that have come to light since then show that it was a lack of control. A single person received unemployment benefits from 29 different states. The same number of a gas station in Houston (Texas) was used to request loans from 150 alleged small businesses. In Florida, two neighbors claimed that they had farms with dozens of employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars of income a year (it was all an invention, the ‘farm’ was the backyard of their house) to defraud 1.5 million dollars. A couple from California filled out requests for financial aid for 151 companies: the 7.2 million they received were spent on a mansion, a Maserati, two other cars and a private plane flight to Montenegro, where they were arrested after living for several months like the ‘jet set’ (in their flight, they forgot about their children; they protested because they escaped with the dog, and not with them). Americans have witnessed in recent months a barrage of stories of fraudsters who spent the embezzlement on ‘lamborghinis’, ‘ferraris’, ‘bentleys’, jewelry, hotels, luxury fashion…. Many times, flaunting it on social networks. A Georgia man used $57,000 borrowed from a non-existent company to buy a Pokémon card. It was so easy to get public money that even an employee of the public postal service, the US Postal Service, invented a company to raise relief funds and did not make much effort to think of the name: ‘US Postal Services’. He got the loan. Tip of the iceberg In those convulsive weeks and months, fraud was even taught in YouTube tutorials or others interested in looting public coffers in exchange for a pinch were instructed. That’s what Alicia and Andrea Ayers, a mother and daughter from upstate New York, did, applying for more than 300 non-existent business loans. You didn’t even have to be in the US to get those funds. Much of the looting of unemployment benefits – there are estimates that put it in half – occurred from abroad, with thousands of people filling out online petitions. An investigation by ‘ProPublica’ showed that requests came from IP addresses from 170 countries and that there were ‘farms’ in China, Brazil or Nigeria with employees filling in data to obtain subsidies. Rapper Nuke Bizzle – it occurred to him to post the video clip of his song on YouTube, it has more than 400,000 views – and the rest of the cases cited so far have been caught. According to ‘The New York Times’, the prosecution has charged 1,500 people with fraud against Covid funds, of which just over 450 have been convicted. That’s just the tip of the looting iceberg: there are 39,000 investigations underway, with thousands more known cases that will never be investigated. Go for them The level of the robbery is also seen in the number of calls to the fraud alert number of the Small Business Administration (SBA), one of the organizations that processed the loans: they had about 800 calls a year and in the first twelve months of the pandemic received 148,000 notices. Many are likely to get off scot-free due to lack of time: it takes much less time to steal than to investigate theft. Earlier this month, Biden passed legislation to extend the statute of limitations for these crimes from five to 10 years. The president, who blamed his predecessor for the chaos in the granting of loans and aid, promised to pursue creditors to the end: “My message to those cheats is this: you cannot hide. We will find you». The problem is that there are too many cheaters and only 500 people working on the cases. “I am sure that we are going to have to use up to the last day of those ten years,” Kevin Chambers, the chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud at the Department of Justice, told the New York newspaper. Several lawyers for the defendants have used an argument in the US courts to reduce the sentences of their clients, and perhaps they are right: it was too easy to steal.

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