The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday that it would prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus, or COVID-19 fraud. The announcement comes as the government earmarks trillions of dollars to respond to the Coronavirus (COVID19) crisis.
In the face of a crisis, fraudsters often seek ways to profit while others suffer. Headlines about the lack of proper protective gear for healthcare workers, accusations that U.S. Senators violated insider trading laws, reports that the Chinese government silenced Coronavirus whistleblowers, and warnings of fake scam alerts, are taking a toll on the confidence of the American public. Never has there been a more critical need for oversight of government funding.
“America needs to hold fraudsters accountable and protect the billions of dollars earmarked for COVID19 relief,” said whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn. His law firm, Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto took steps to educate American workers about their rights by publishing FAQs for Coronavirus whistleblowers this past Monday.
Kohn has years of experience representing whistleblowers who uncover fraud in public health and safety matters. This experience, which includes holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for ripping off Medicare, representing clients who reported the sale of faulty bulletproof vests to members of law enforcement, and representing clients who uncovered FEMA contracting fraud at the 9/11 cleanup sites, provides Kohn a unique insight on how to use the whistleblower laws to hold fraudsters accountable while ensuring the protection of whistleblowers.
On Monday, Kohn published “Whistleblowing and The Coronavirus Crisis.” This article expands on the FAQs and explains individual whistleblower rights related to reporting Coronavirus fraud in more detail. Next, Kohn sent a letter Monday urging Attorney General Barr set up Coronavirus False Claims Task Force. He also asked the DOJ to warn healthcare providers to be on the lookout for potential fraud related to the government funding used to combat COVID-19 or Coronavirus.
Bloomberg Law and Mother Jones each published articles outlining Kohn’s plea to Barr. These articles resonated on Twitter and caught the attention of the Hilaria and Alec Baldwin Foundation, who retweeted the Mother Jones article to its one million followers.
The announcement from the DOJ came the next day, adopting much of what Kohn suggested in his letter. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.
The DOJ also “directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness.” The DOJ also gave examples of the types of fraudulent schemes to look for, including:
Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to bill for other tests and procedures fraudulently.
“This is a great first step in ensuring that no person’s health is placed at risk due to fraud and that every penny spent by the federal government is used according to the law,” said whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn. Kohn also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Whistleblower Center.
“We must also protect all Coronavirus fraud whistleblowers,” Kohn said. Kohn explained that retaliation against any Coronavirus whistleblower for truthful information given to law enforcement, including the NCDF hotline, violates the federal obstruction of justice statute. “The government must conduct vigorous prosecutions of fraudsters and strictly enforce of obstruction statute to protect whistleblower,” Kohn urged.