Texan sentenced in CARES Act unemployment fraud scheme

A 29-year-old Corpus Christi man has been ordered to federal prison after he admitted to devising a scheme to fraudulently misappropriate $255,052 in unemployment benefits meant for those suffering financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Read full article at: https://www.justice.gov May 4, 2021

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    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    A Connecticut man was charged yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with assaulting an officer during the breach of the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. He will be presented in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today, before appearing in Washington D.C. 
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  • Former Senior Libyan Intelligence Officer and Bomb-Maker for the Muamar Qaddafi Regime Charged for The December 21, 1988 Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
    In Crime News
    Today, Attorney General William Barr, Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, and Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, announced new charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, aka, “Hasan Abu Ojalya Ibrahim” (Masud), for his role in building the bomb that killed 270 individuals in the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.
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  • Comparative Effectiveness Research: Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and HHS Continue Activities and Plan New Efforts
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found that the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)—a federally funded, nonprofit corporation—and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have continued to perform comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) activities required by law since our prior report issued in 2015. CER evaluates and compares health outcomes, risks, and benefits of medical treatments, services, or items. The requirements direct PCORI and HHS to, among other things, fund CER and disseminate and facilitate the implementation of CER findings. GAO's analysis of PCORI and HHS documents show that they allocated a total of about $3.6 billion for CER activities and program support during fiscal years 2010 through 2019 from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund (Trust Fund). Specifically, PCORI allocated about $2 billion for research awards and another $542 million for other awards, to be paid over multiple years. HHS allocated about $598 million for activities such as the dissemination and implementation of CER findings. PCORI and HHS also allocated about $470 million for program support. PCORI and HHS Allocations for Comparative Clinical Effectiveness Research (CER) Activities, Fiscal Years 2010 through 2019 aTotals may not add up due to rounding. bPCORI and HHS allocated $457 million and $13 million for program support, respectively. PCORI assessed the effectiveness of its activities using performance measures and targets. Since fiscal year 2017, when early CER projects were completed, PCORI officials reported that the institute met its performance targets, such as an increased number of research citations of its CER findings in news and online sources. HHS described accomplishments or assessed the effectiveness of its dissemination and implementation activities. PCORI and HHS officials told GAO they are planning comprehensive evaluations of their CER dissemination and implementation activities as part of their strategic plans for the next 10 years. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) authorized establishment of PCORI to conduct CER and improve its quality and relevance. PPACA also established new requirements for HHS to, among other things, disseminate findings from federally funded CER and coordinate federal programs to build data capacity for this research. To fund CER activities, PPACA established the Trust Fund, which provided a total of about $3.6 billion to PCORI and HHS for CER activities during fiscal years 2010 through 2019. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, added new CER requirements and extended funding at similar levels through fiscal year 2029. PPACA and the Appropriations Act 2020 included provisions that GAO review PCORI and HHS's CER activities. This report describes (1) the CER activities PCORI and HHS carried out to meet legislative requirements, (2) how PCORI and HHS allocated funding to those CER activities, and (3) PCORI and HHS efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of their CER dissemination and implementation activities, such as changes in medical practice. GAO reviewed legislative requirements and PCORI and HHS documentation and data for fiscal years 2010-2019. GAO also interviewed PCORI and HHS officials and obtained information from nine selected stakeholder groups that were familiar with PCORI's or HHS's CER activities. These groups included payer, provider, and patient organizations. GAO incorporated technical comments from PCORI and HHS as appropriate. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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  • IRS Reorganization: Planning Addressed Key Reform Practices, but Goals and Measures for the Plan Have Not Been Finalized
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified advantages of, challenges related to, and options for improving the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) current organizational structure, based on GAO's review of prior work and interviews with IRS officials and stakeholders. For example, one advantage of the current structure, according to several interviewees, is that IRS's divisions have developed specialized expertise on different types of taxpayers with similar needs, such as small businesses. Several interviewees also believed that addressing some of IRS's challenges may not require significant changes to IRS's organizational structure. GAO and others have identified challenges and options to improve IRS's structure, processes, and operations in the following areas: (1) customer service; (2) communication and coordination within IRS; (3) technology; and (4) strategic human capital management and training. While developing its reorganization plan required by the Taxpayer First Act, IRS addressed or partially addressed all six of the key practices for agency reforms that GAO reviewed (see table below). GAO Assessment of IRS's Reorganization Planning Process against Key Reform Practices Key reform practice Extent addressed Establishing goals and outcomes ◑ Involving employees and key stakeholders ● Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ◑ Addressing high-risk areas and long-standing management challenges ◑ Leadership focus and attention ● Legend: ● Generally addressed ◑ Partially addressed ○ Not addressed Source: GAO analysis of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information. | GAO-21-18 IRS established a senior-level team—the Taxpayer First Act Office—to lead the reorganization planning, involved employees and key stakeholders, and used multiple sources of data and evidence to inform its planning. Although IRS has developed preliminary goals for the plan, it has not yet finalized and communicated the goals and performance measures for the plan. IRS has also researched potential actions it could take to address long-standing management challenges at IRS, such as those related to areas of fragmentation, overlap, duplication, and high risk that GAO has identified. However, IRS has not yet decided on specific actions to address those areas in its plan. IRS officials told us that they intend to take these additional steps, but COVID-19 delayed the completion of their reorganization plan to December 2020. As a result, it is still unclear whether the reorganization plan will have outcome-oriented goals and performance measures or whether it will identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. Taking these steps could help IRS identify and achieve the intended outcomes of the reorganization plan, and identify reforms that can create long-term gains in efficiency and effectiveness. The Taxpayer First Act required that a comprehensive written plan to redesign IRS be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2020. Reforming and reorganizing a federal agency as large and complex as IRS is not an easy task. However, a potential reorganization could provide IRS with an opportunity to address emerging and long-standing challenges. GAO was asked to review IRS's organizational structure and IRS's plans to reform it. This report examines (1) reported advantages of, challenges related to, and options for potentially improving IRS's organizational structure; and (2) the extent to which IRS's reorganization planning process is consistent with selected leading practices. GAO reviewed documents from IRS and other sources; interviewed IRS officials and stakeholders, including three former IRS commissioners; and assessed IRS's reorganization planning process against selected key practices for agency reform efforts developed by GAO. GAO is making three recommendations to IRS as it finalizes its reorganization plan, including that IRS should finalize goals and performance measures, and identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. IRS responded that it plans to implement GAO's recommendations when it submits its final reorganization plan to Congress in December 2020. For more information, contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512-9110 or mctiguej@gao.gov.
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  • Veterans Community Care Program: Improvements Needed to Help Ensure Timely Access to Care
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established an appointment scheduling process for the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) that allows up to 19 days to complete several steps from VA providers creating a referral to community care staff reviewing that referral. However, as the figure shows, VA has not specified the maximum amount of time veterans should have to wait to receive care through the program. GAO previously recommended in 2013 the need for an overall wait-time measure for veterans to receive care under a prior VA community care program. Subsequent to VA not implementing this recommendation, GAO again recommended in 2018 that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal as part of its new community care program (the VCCP). Potential Allowable Wait Time to Obtain Care through the Veterans Community Care Program Note: This figure illustrates potential allowable wait times in calendar days for eligible veterans who are referred to the VCCP through routine referrals (non-emergent), and have VA medical center staff—Referral Coordination Team (RCT) and community care staff (CC staff)—schedule the appointments on their behalf. VA has not yet implemented GAO's 2018 recommendation that VA establish an achievable wait-time goal. Under the VA MISSION Act, VA is assigned responsibility for ensuring that veterans' appointments are scheduled in a timely manner—an essential component of quality health care. Given VA's lack of action over the prior 7 years implementing wait-time goals for various community care programs, congressional action is warranted to help achieve timely health care for veterans. Regarding monitoring of the initial steps of the scheduling process, GAO found that VA is using metrics that are remnants from the previous community care program, which are inconsistent with the time frames established in the VCCP scheduling process. This limits VA's ability to determine the effectiveness of the VCCP and to identify areas for improvement. In June 2019, VA implemented its new community care program, the VCCP, as required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018. Under the VCCP, VAMC staff are responsible for community care appointment scheduling; their ability to execute this new responsibility has implications for veterans receiving community care in a timely manner. GAO was asked to review VCCP appointment scheduling. This report examines, among other issues, the VCCP appointment scheduling process VA established and VA's monitoring of that process. GAO reviewed documentation, such as scheduling policies, and referral data related to the VCCP and assessed VA's relevant processes. GAO conducted site visits to five VAMCs in the first region to transition to VA's new provider network, and interviewed VAMC staff and a non-generalizable sample of community providers receiving referrals from those VAMCs. GAO also interviewed VA and contractor officials. GAO recommends that Congress consider requiring VA to establish an overall wait-time measure for the VCCP. GAO is also making three recommendations to VA, including that it align its monitoring metrics with the VCCP appointment scheduling process. VA did not concur with one of GAO's recommendations related to aligning monitoring metrics to VCCP scheduling policy time frames. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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  • Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring System
    In U.S GAO News
    The ambient air quality monitoring system is a national asset that provides standardized information for implementing the Clean Air Act and protecting public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies cooperatively manage the system, with each playing different roles in design, operation, oversight, and funding. For example, EPA establishes minimum requirements for the system, and state and local agencies operate the monitors and report data to EPA. Officials from EPA and selected state and local agencies identified challenges related to sustaining the monitoring system. For example, they said that infrastructure is aging while annual EPA funding for state and local air quality management grants, which cover monitoring, has decreased by about 20 percent since 2004 after adjusting for inflation (see fig.). GAO found inconsistencies in how EPA regions have addressed these challenges. GAO's prior work has identified key characteristics of asset management, such as identifying needed resources and using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, which can help organizations optimize limited resources. By developing an asset management framework that includes such characteristics, EPA could better target limited resources toward the highest priorities for consistently sustaining the system. Annual Inflation-Adjusted EPA Funding for State and Local Air Quality Management Grants Air quality managers, researchers, and the public need additional information so they can better understand and address the health risks from air pollution, according to GAO's review of literature and interviews GAO conducted. These needs include additional information on (1) air toxics to understand health risks in key locations such as near industrial facilities; and (2) how to use low-cost sensors to provide real-time, local-scale air quality information. EPA and state and local agencies face persistent challenges meeting such air quality information needs, including challenges in understanding the performance of low-cost sensors. GAO illustrated this challenge by collecting air quality data from low-cost sensors and finding variability in their performance. EPA has strategies aimed at better meeting the additional air quality information needs of managers, researchers, and the public, but the strategies are outdated and incomplete. For example, they do not clearly define roles for meeting additional information needs. GAO's prior work on asset management suggests that a more strategic approach could help EPA modernize the system to better meet the additional information needs. By developing a modernization plan that aligns with leading practices for strategic planning and risk management, such as establishing modernization goals and roles, EPA could better ensure that the system meets the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public and is positioned to protect public health. The national ambient air quality monitoring system shows that the United States has made progress in reducing air pollution but that risks to public health and the environment continue in certain locations. The system consists of sites that measure air pollution levels around fixed locations across the country using specific methods. Since the system began in the 1970s, air quality concerns have changed—such as increased concern about the health effects of air toxics. GAO was asked to evaluate the national air quality monitoring system. This report examines the role of the system and how it is managed, challenges in managing the system and actions to address them, and needs for additional air quality information and actions to address challenges in meeting those needs. GAO reviewed literature, laws, and agency documents; conducted a demonstration of low-cost sensors; and interviewed EPA officials, selected state and local officials, representatives from air quality associations, and stakeholders. GAO is making two recommendations for EPA to (1) establish an asset management framework for the monitoring system that includes key characteristics and (2) develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan that aligns with leading practices. In written comments on the report, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    Today, a federal grand jury in San Antonio, Texas, returned an indictment charging the former owner of several companies in the construction industry for his role in a long-running scheme to defraud the United States.
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    The Justice Department today announced that former Stockton, California resident Satish Kartan, 46, was sentenced today to188 months in prison for forced labor violations. In addition, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. ordered $15,657 be paid in restitution to three victims, in part to cover their back wages and other losses.
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