Federal Government & Florida Increase Prosecutions of Fraud & Price Gouging
There have been a number of effects of the coronavirus on criminal defense issues, one of them being that both states and the federal government have announced an increased crackdown on fraud crimes and prosecutions. Attorney General Barr directed federal prosecutors in every state, including Florida, to prioritize prosecuting all criminal conduct related to the virus, while his deputy directed all U.S. attorneys to appoint a coronavirus coordinator in their offices.
The FBI has also indicated that battling fraud during this time is also a priority for the agency, and law enforcement has indicated that they are seeking to crack down on telephone scams, where those engaging in fraud allegedly inform people that their relative has been diagnosed with the virus and request that money be wired immediately to cover their treatment. Meanwhile, Florida is reportedly focusing on individuals fraudulently going from home to home dressed in medical apparel offering coronavirus tests, as well as cracking down on any individuals or companies found linked to price gouging.
Federal Justice Department Brings Its First Case
In late March, the Justice Department brought its first federal fraud case in connection with the coronavirus pandemic, alleging that the operator of a website, coronavirusmedicalkit.com, engaged in wire fraud by intentionally making false statements about vaccines that do not exist; specifically, by informing consumers that the World Health Organization provides free vaccine kits and that by paying the company $4.95 for shipping, the company would send these kits.
Relevant Federal & State Laws & Penalties
Anyone convicted of wire fraud can spend up to 20 years in prison, however, if the act is connected to a declared emergency, like the coronavirus, that can turn into up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000.
In addition, anyone found guilty of price gouging in Florida is subject to penalties of $1,000 per violation and up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations. However, a seller can mount a viable defense to the charge by proving that there was an increase in the price of their product due to market trends and/or cost of supplies. It is also important to note that the law does not apply to non-essential goods, such as alcohol.
Citizens Encourage a Task Force to Investigate False Claims Act Violations
Some have also called for the Department of Justice to set up a task force to investigate and monitor any violations of the False Claims Act, specifically, when it comes to coronavirus-related fraud during this time. The law holds federal contractors liable for defrauding government programs that are related to the pandemic, for example, in connection with abuses and crimes committed. It typically takes over one year for False Claims Act violations to be investigated. In addition, if there is a formal complaint made in federal court, this rarely results in a department investigation. A number of whistleblowers exposed several contractors for violating the False Claims Act after the 9/11 attacks in particular, accusing them of stealing millions in government funds.
If You Are Facing Criminal Fraud Charges, It Is Crucial That You Work with The Very Best in Criminal Defense
If you are facing fraud charges, it is now more important than ever to work with the very best in criminal and civil rights defense. Contact the Orlando criminal lawyers The Baez Law Firm today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.