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U.S. Justice Department launches COVID-19 fraud strike force groups

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The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a trio of strike force groups tasked with expanding the department's ongoing fraud prevention efforts related to COVID-19.

The U.S. Attorney's Offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles will collaborate as one team while strike force teams will also operate out of the U.S. Attorney's Offices in the Southern District of Florida and the District of Maryland.

"The work being done by our prosecutors, trial attorneys, agents and partners on our COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force has been extraordinary," said Associate Deputy Attorney General Kevin Chambers, the Justice Department's director for COVID-19 fraud enforcement. "We're going a step further ... with the announcement of strike force teams to support, enhance, and continue the great work being done across the department."

Multiple Bay Area residents have been convicted in federal court for COVID-related fraud, largely among those who have wrongly claimed to be able to treat a COVID infection or effectively test for the virus.

Earlier this month, a federal jury convicted Mark Schena, the president of a Sunnyvale-based allergy and COVID testing company, for engaging in a scheme to defraud investors.

Schena claimed his company could test for diseases using a few drops of blood and told investors that the company was valued at $4.5 billion when it was actually on the verge of bankruptcy.

Federal prosecutors also secured a guilty plea in April from a Napa woman who allegedly sold fake COVID immunization pills and allegedly forged U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards.

The woman is set to be sentenced in November on one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements regarding health care.

Federal prosecutors with the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was formed in May 2021, have also investigated fraud complaints involving the Paycheck Protection Program, pandemic-related unemployment insurance and other health care fraud.

"Since the start of this pandemic, the Justice Department has seized over $1.2 billion in relief funds that criminals were attempting to steal and charged over 1,500 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country, but our work is far from over," Attorney General Merrick Garland said. "The department will continue to work relentlessly to combat pandemic fraud and hold accountable those who perpetrate it."

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