Justice Dept. sets up task force to chase down Covid-19 financial aid fraud

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U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska announced this week the existence of an interagency Covid-19 Fraud Task Force and said she is pursuing other white-collar financial crimes in Alaska.

“White-collar and other financial crimes devastate families, communities and organizations. This task force brings together key law enforcement personnel to continue our ongoing efforts to combat all types of white-collar crime, including Covid-19 related fraud,” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska. “My office will remain steadfast in our work with law enforcement to find, investigate and prosecute any individual who chooses to commit these crimes.”

 The task force agencies include:

  • – U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General Western Region Office
  • – IRS, Criminal Investigation Seattle Division Office
  • – FBI Anchorage Field Office
  • – U.S. Department of Treasury, Inspector General for Tax Administration

“White-collar crimes are not violent, but they are not victimless,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brandon Waddle of the FBI Anchorage Field Office. “By collaborating with our partners and utilizing intelligence-driven strategies, the FBI has been working diligently to tackle white-collar crimes and to hold fraudsters accountable.”

The task force will identify, investigate, and prosecute those whose defraud economic aid programs intended to help individuals and small businesses negatively impacted by the Covid‑19 pandemic, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Restaurant Revitalization Funds, Shuttered Venue Operator Grants, State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program, Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and Unemployment Insurance.

The office said that people created fake businesses, committed identity theft, falsely reported their criminal history, and inflated the size and scope of their actual businesses, and then many had used federal funding for personal gain.

Tucker also announced charges and recognized milestones in a number of financial crimes cases, including charges in cases investigated by the task force.

Since September 2023, three cases alleging fraud charges related to Covid-19 programs have been indicted following investigations by the Task Force. The cases are as follows (by date of indictment):

  • – Rosaline Natazha Mavaega, 41, and Esau Malele Fualema Jr., 44, of Anchorage, were indicted in September 2023 on major fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and identify theft charges related to an alleged scheme to steal millions of dollars through Covid-19 recovery funds. The indictment alleges they stole over $1.6 million.
  • – Lloyd Pennebaker, 58, of Anchorage, was indicted in October 2023 on wire fraud charges related to false statements regarding his criminal history he allegedly made on EIDL loan applications from April 2020 to May 2021. The indictment alleges he received $122,500 in federal funding from the EIDL loans.
  • – Cheryl Labrie, 36, of Anchorage, was indicted in January 2024 on wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering charges related to an alleged scheme to obtain and launder nearly $1 million she received through multiple EIDL and PPP loans and advances over a year.
  • Tucker also highlighted other financial crimes her office has investigated:
  • – Garett Elder, 30, of Anchorage, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Nov. 13, 2023, after defrauding more than $26 million from over 170 victims in a large-scale investment fraud scheme.
  • – The U.S. will collect over $350,000 in treble damages and penalties after a default judgement was ordered in the False Claims Act case against Michael Hanzuk II, 31, of Anchorage. Hanzuk was a former co-owner of Arm Rippin Toys Inc. and was convicted of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act in August 2022. In 2020, Hanzuk applied for an EIDL loan of over $100,000 and falsely certified that he and Arm Rippin Toys were not engaged in “any illegal activity,” despite their active conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act.
  • – Saray Consuelo Sarmiento Angarita Lockwood, 58, of Kenai, was sentenced to one year in prison on Dec. 18, 2023, after she and her late husband made a materially false statement in a bankruptcy case.
  • Melissa Dobbs, 50, of the Matanuska Valley, was indicted in January 2024 on charges of healthcare fraud and allegedly making false statements on a loan application.
  • – Jayel Jean Lane, 34, of Anchorage, was sentenced to nine months in prison on Feb. 7, 2024, after she stole and misused Social Security benefits for roughly seven years. Lane stole over $76,000 in benefits that she applied for on behalf of a minor and spent the money for her own personal use.

13 COMMENTS

  1. So sad that the justice department is more concerned about tracking down fraudulent Covid claims money than it is in the fact that millions of people were subjected to and coerced into taking a fraudulent vaccine. Where was the justice department when my family members were wrongfully terminated because they were not going to take the clot shot? Where were they when innocent Americans were murdered by this beast? Where were they when the lives and education of millions of children were thwarted and shut down? Forget no child left behind- what happens when all the children are left behind?! The justice department has sent a clear message to the people … all they care about is chasing the money: you are on your own.

  2. When will they get the Anchorage Assembly misuse of using the Covid funds for the homeless outside of the dated Covid funds usage? I’m still waiting for that. Used it for the homeless instead of the funds going to small businesses that had to shut down permanently.

    • I was just going to post the exact same comment as you just did, kc!

      Yes, in Alaska, nobody could possibly have defrauded the federal government with those funds than did the Marxist Nine majority on the Anchorage ass-embly.

      • Ya, but it’s righteous, like those sunday morning T.V. preachers that used to take a half hour to ask for money. The righteous can do no wrong.

  3. Remind me who was responsible for the taxpayer’s exposure to this fraud? Is it the same people trying to recoup?
    The wheel goes round and round.

  4. This will be free; right? And it will move at the usual
    snails’ pace. Again, why bother. You put those guys out of business sure as the noses on your face. But for your illegal man dates none of this would have happened. Did YOU learn anything from this? Not one dopey thing. Change the topic. save money. Go home immediately. I beg you.

  5. To S. Lane Tucker, and Brandon Waddle, thank you for working to combat white-collar crime.
    .
    The following is submitted to raise awareness of possibly large-scale Covid-19 economic aid irregularities arising from actions of certain Anchorage Assembly members.
    .
    (a) In October 2020, certain Anchorage Assembly members, under color of law (18 USC 242), may have committed honest services fraud (18 USC 1346), by voting as a bloc to appoint one of their group, a sitting Assembly member, as acting Mayor of Anchorage, intentionally contravening the Anchorage Municipal Charter [Part 7.02 (c)] which requires an election to fill a mayoral vacancy, doing so for the sole purpose of facilitating potentially questionable allocations of approximately $51.1 million dollars in American Recovery Plan (ARP) funds.
    .
    (b) The threshold for intent to commit economic fraud may have been reached when the same Assembly members effectively appointed one of their group as acting mayor, despite the Municipal Attorney’s October 16, 2020, memorandum addressed to the Assembly: “Options for Complying with… Charter 7.02c to Fill a Vacancy in the Office of Mayor” affirming that an election was required to fill a mayoral vacancy.
    .
    (c) This action from certain Assembly members may be seen in context with the RICO Act as reasonable evidence of an association-in-fact legal enterprise, an ongoing informal organization whose various associates function as a continuing unit in furtherance of a common purpose, [United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576, 583 (1981)]
    .
    (d) This legal entity enterprise seems to have all the structural features of a RICO association-in-fact: “…a purpose, relationships among those associated with the enterprise, and longevity sufficient to permit these associates to pursue the enterprise’s purpose.” [Boyle v. United States, 556 U.S. 938, 945-948 (2009)] which, in this case, may have been co-opting the mayor’s office to expedite distribution of $51.1 million in ARP funds to selected recipients.
    .
    (e) Whether an acting mayor, appointed under color of law, in contravention of the Charter, is eligible under ARP criteria to receive or manage ARP awards needs clarification, otherwise a reasonable expectation is that a significant procedural loophole exists allowing transfer of ARP funds to government officials acting outside the scope of their statutory authority.
    .
    (f) Whether specific allocations were questionable under American Recovery Plan criteria is unknown.
    Specific allocations appear at: ‘https://meetings.muni.org/AgendaOnline/Documents/ViewDocument/Assembly_Special_-_May_18%2C_2021_(American_Rescue_Plan_Act_o_4223_Agenda_Packet_5_18_2021_6_00_00_P.pdf?meetingId=4223&documentType=AgendaPacket&itemId=0&publishId=0&isSection=false).
    Potentially questionable allocations appear at: https://mustreadalaska.com/acting-mayor-rushing-through-arp-expenditures-before-new-mayor-sworn-in/
    .
    (g) Motive for using the questionable mayoral appointment process appears in retrospect to have been the potentially short-lived opportunity to acquire and allocate ARP funds to gain windfall financial benefits from relationships with what seem to be arbitrarily chosen ARP recipients referenced in (d).
    .
    (h) Opportunity for using this process appears to have been the abrupt resignation of former mayor Ethan Berkowitz, which could have been perceived as a fortuitous chance for certain Assembly members to expedite acquisition and allocation of ARP funds, (perhaps with minimal public exposure and therefore risk of accountability), by appointing one of their group as mayor.
    .
    (i) The process used by certain Assembly members, effectively taking over the Mayor’s office arguably to expedite acquisition and allocation of federal ARP funds to recipients of their choosing, may be evidence of intentional deception for unfair or unlawful gain and of deprivation of constituents’ right to fair and honest government, thereby creating reasonable cause for investigating a possible RICO enterprise.
    .
    Thank you for your time.

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