SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Although the coronavirus pandemic only spread to the United States in January, illegal schemes to profit off the tragedy already have already been put in place.
But scammers beware, U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph has formed a task force in the Western District of Louisiana to identify, investigate, prosecute and dismantle fraud schemes designed to unlawfully profit from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In making the announcement Tuesday, Joseph said The Western District of Louisiana’s COVID-19 Fraud Task Force “brings together multiple federal investigative agencies under the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to share and receive intelligence related to the scams being perpetrated on-line and in-person by individuals seeking to exploit the evolving public health crisis.”
The Task Force will use the collective investigative power of a number of federal law enforcement agencies by forming joint investigative teams to work with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Reeg, the USA Offices’ COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator will head up the Task Force. In addition to representatives from the USA’s office, Task Force members include, representatives from the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations/ Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Administration – Office of Inspector General, the United States Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Trade Commission and the Small Business Administration – Office of Inspector General.
“The public should know that my office remains fully operational during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be focusing on those who seek to unlawfully exploit others during this difficult time,” Joseph said.
The formation of the Task Force will allow federal prosecutors to collaborate on a daily basis with investigators to identify, investigate, and aggressively prosecute those attempting to profit from the pandemic, Joseph said.
TheTask Force will review and investigate all credible leads of fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on those hoarding or price-gouging critical medical supplies and schemes designed to exploit vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those who may be more susceptible to the disease due to pre-existing health conditions.
The Task Force also will prioritize schemes that have the potential to endanger public health and safety. Reeg will meet and confer with agency counterparts on a regular basis to prioritize cases and add resources where needed.
The Western District of Louisiana Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, AUSA Seth Reeg, can be reached at: (318) 676-3600.