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Billions in COVID fraud helped one man buy a private island

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Dubbed the greatest grift in U.S. history, the exploitation of billions of dollars in federal funds earmarked for COVID relief dominated the news cycle as the pandemic dust settled. Thousands of people have since been charged with fraud related to COVID relief funding.

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One of those charged, Patrick Walsh, who is serving five and a half years in federal prison, used some of the relief money to buy a private island in Florida, Sweetheart Island.

An Associated Press analysis estimates that nearly 10% of $4.3 trillion the federal government set aside for COVID aid was stolen or wasted.

“We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history,” Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said.

Earlier this year, Walsh pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in connection with COVID relief after court documents show he submitted 16 fraudulent applications to multiple federally insured financial institutions for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans between April 2020 and January 2021.

However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting millions of dollars in emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale. 

U.S. Attorney Jason R. Coody

Prosecutors said Walsh fraudulently banked nearly $8 million in COVID relief. Walsh’s private island may be one of the more lavish purchases made with stolen relief funds; federal prosecutors said a Massachusetts business owner purchased an Alpaca farm using stolen relief funding.

Walsh is just one on a long list of diverse fraudsters now paying for their actions.

In 2022, Tennessee rapper Nuke Bizzle was sentenced to more than six years in prison after he released a music video bragging that he stole more than $700,000 of COVID unemployment insurance.

Even a former Nigerian state official joined in the rampant fraud; federal prosecutors said the Nigerian resident stole $500,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits. In September of 2022, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

The United States Justice Department said it has prosecuted more than 3,000 fraudsters and seized more than $1 billion in stolen COVID relief funds.

But the reality is, according to legal experts, the criminal justice system is not equipped to catch all of the widespread fraud that occurred while COVID relief funds were dispersed.

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KARAH RUCKER/ANCHOR:  IT HAS BEEN DUBBED THE GREATEST GRIFT IN U-S HISTORY –  EXPLOITING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN FEDERAL FUNDS EARMARKED FOR COVID RELIEF – A TOPIC THAT DOMINATED THE NEWS CYCLE AS THE PANDEMIC DUST BEGAN TO SETTLE… 

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH FRAUD RELATED TO COVID RELIEF FUNDING.. ONE OF THEM, PATRICK WALSH WHO IS SERVING FIVE AND A HALF YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON – USED SOME OF THE RELIEF MONEY TO BUY A PRIVATE ISLAND IN FLORIDA.

AN ASSOCIATED PRESS ANALYSIS ESTIMATES THAT NEARLY 10-PERCENT OF 4-POINT-3-TRILLION DOLLARS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SET ASIDE FOR COVID-AID WAS STOLEN OR WASTED…

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.): “We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history.”

KARAH RUCKER/ANCHOR:  EARLIER THIS YEAR WALSH PLEADED GUILTY TO WIRE FRAUD AND MONEY LAUNDERING IN CONNECTION COVID RELIEF AFTER COURT DOCUMENTS SHOW HE SUBMITTED SIXTEEN FRAUDULENT APPLICATIONS TO MULTIPLE FEDERALLY INSURED FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS FOR PAYCHECK-PROTECTION-PROGRAM LOANS BETWEEN APRIL 20-20 AND JANUARY 20-21 – 

IN TOTAL PROSECUTORS SAY WALSH FRAUDULENTLY BANKED NEARLY 8-MILLION  DOLLARS IN COVID RELIEF…

WHILE WALSH’S PRIVATE ISLAND MAY BE ONE OF THE MORE LAVISH PURCHASES MADE WITH STOLEN RELIEF FUNDS… 

NBC BOSTON: “A former business owner on the North Shore selling his Pizza shop deciding to raise alpacas instead.. So the problem here is that investigators say the funds that actually helped him were meant for COVID relief.”

KARAH RUCKER/ANCHOR: WALSH IS JUST ONE ON A LONG LIST OF DIVERSE FRAUDSTERS WHO ARE NOW PAYING FOR THEIR ACTIONS…

AND IN 2022 – TENNESSEE RAPPER – NUKE BIZZLE – WAS SENTENCED TO MORE THAN SIX YEARS IN PRISON AFTER HE RELEASED A MUSIC VIDEO BRAGGING THAT HE STOLE MORE THAN 7-HUNDRED-THOUSAND DOLLARS OF COVID UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE…

NUKE BIZZLE: “I done got rich off of EDD I done got rich off of EDD, Ain’t hit no more licks ’cause of EDD, And just last night, I was sellin’ Ps, And I just woke up to 300 Gs, Stole 60k off an SBA”

KARAH RUCKER/ANCHOR: EVEN A FORMER NIGERIAN STATE OFFICIAL JOINED IN THE RAMPANT FRAUD… FEDERAL PROSECUTORS SAY THE NIGERIAN RESIDENT STOLE 5-HUNDRED-THOUSAND DOLLARS IN PANDEMIC RELATED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS —-

IN SEPTEMBER OF 2022 – HE WAS SENTENCED TO 5 YEARS IN PRISON.

THE UNITED STATES JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SAYS IT HAS PROSECUTED MORE THAN 3-THOUSAND FRAUDSTERS AND SEIZED MORE THAN 1-BILLION DOLLARS IN STOLEN COVID RELIEF FUNDS…

BUT THE REALITY IS… ACCORDING TO LEGAL EXPERTS.. THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS NOT EQUIPPED TO CATCH ALL OF THE WIDESPREAD FRAUD THAT OCCURRED WHILE COVID RELIEF FUNDS WERE DISPERSED.