DOJ Shifting Focus to Prosecute COVID-19 Related Fraud

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused a significant shift in the way we all do business. Its effect on the Government has likewise been profound. In response to the Pandemic, U.S. Attorney General Barr announced a shift in priorities in a March 16, 2020 memorandum: “[t]he [COVID-19] pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated. Every U.S. Attorney’s Office (“USAO”) is thus hereby directed to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.” In addition to shuttling focus and resources towards prosecuting COVID-19 related fraud, Coronavirus Fraud Coordinators have been appointed to each U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has not wasted any time acting on this new directive. Not even a week after releasing the above-referenced memorandum, on March 21, 2020, an enforcement action was filed in Austin, TX alleging that the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com,” engaged in a wire fraud scheme. The website promised that consumers would be provided access to World Health Organization vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, though there is currently no such vaccine available.

As part of this new enforcement trend, USAOs in various jurisdictions have started publicizing this shift in focus, itemizing various actions related to COVID-19 fraud which merit prosecution. For example, on Monday, April 13, the USAO for the District of Nevada listed items that it considered scams regarding diagnosis (e.g., fake COVID-19 testing kits) and treatment/cure (including fake or unproven treatment plans), as ripe for prosecution.

The Government’s shift in focus is especially relevant to practitioners in the healthcare space, who, in the interest of patient care, may attempt to employ novel solutions to the pandemic or act under a novel waiver available during this national emergency.  (See our recent article on Stark waivers). While you may believe that you are acting in the best interest of the patient population you serve, it is now, more than ever, important to safeguard your methods and execution.

How Frier Levitt Can Help

If you have implemented practices that bear on the screening, treatment, or prevention of COVID-19, contact Frier Levitt today to ensure that you have done so compliantly.

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