It has been called the greatest grift in American history: an estimated $280 billion of taxpayer money that was supposed to help needy families and businesses through the COVID pandemic has been stolen.
Only about $8 billion has been recovered through Justice Department prosecutions, according to a new congressional letter that is raising serious concern that the government is essentially yawning at a staggering amount of loss in tax dollars.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer wrote the letter to the Justice Department last week that he believes the vast majority of unrecovered money was stolen by criminal rings in Russia, China and Nigeria.
“It is highly concerning that possibly billions of taxpayer dollars intended to help Americans suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were stolen by organized criminal rings in foreign countries,” Comer wrote.
“Therefore, we write today to better understand the full scope of this problem and what actions the Department has taken to investigate international COVID-19 relief program fraud and hold these foreign actors accountable,” he added.
Comer laid out the latest numbers on how much taxpayers have spent on COVID relief, and how much they’ve lost to fraud.
“As of January 2023, the federal government spent approximately $4.6 trillion on aid programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said. “This is equal to more than was spent by the entire federal government in every fiscal year prior to 2020.”
“Criminals inside and outside the United States stole approximately $280 billion in taxpayer funds intended for struggling families, businesses, hospitals, and others,” it added. “Estimates imply that at least half of all stolen COVID-19 relief funds went to Russian, Chinese, and Nigerian criminals.”
“As of March 2022, the Department stated that it had taken criminal and civil enforcement actions in matters alleging over $8 billion in pandemic relief fraud, but it is unclear if this is limited to domestic fraud.”
The committee is demanding the department provide documents and answers detailing the loss of COVID relief program including:
- The total number of current and closed cases involving COVID-19 fraud by international actors or organizations delineated by country;
- The total dollar value of fraud by international actors or organizations delineated by country;
- The total number of current and closed cases involving COVID-19 international fraud by the targeted relief fund.