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Seventeen Florida sheriff’s office employees charged with COVID relief fraud: Feds

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(MIAMI) — The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida announced Thursday that it charged 17 employees of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office with wire fraud after they allegedly tried to defraud the government in pandemic relief loans.

The defendants, who were charged in separate cases, allegedly received $495,171 in assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and used the proceeds “to unjustly enrich themselves.”

“No matter the amount, we will not allow limited federal tax dollars, which were intended to provide a lifeline to small businesses as they struggled to stay afloat during the economically devastating pandemic lockdown, to be swindled by those who were employed in a position of trust and cast aside their duty to uphold and abide by the law,” Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged the defendants in separate indictments that were issued between September 14 and Oct. 11. Their charges include wire fraud, which comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted, the U.S.Attorney’s Office said.

In several of the indictments, the defendants allegedly lied about their income in the application for the assistance, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a statement that his office received a tip that employees were participating “in fraudulent schemes to defraud the federal government,” and immediately launched an internal investigation.

“BSO Public Corruption Unit detectives determined more than 100 employees had submitted applications for the PPP loans. Only the employees who did not obtain the loans legally were subject to criminal investigation,” Tony said in a statement.

The sheriff told reporters that all of the charged employees were in the process of being terminated.

“We still have to follow proper protocols and since these are protected members with union rights and other different statutory obligations from the investigation practices that we have to follow, but I’m not going to sugarcoat or dance around this — at the end of the day, they will be gone,” Tony told reporters at a news conference.

Lapointe said there was no “conspiratorial component” among the 17 charged.

Attorney information for the defendants, who the U.S. Attorney’s Office said were all employed by the sheriff’s office at the time of their alleged defrauding schemes, was not immediately available.

Matt Cowart, president of IUPA Local 6020, the union representing BSO law enforcement deputies, said in a statement to ABC affiliate WPLG that the union was not “privy to all of the investigative facts.”

“Regardless, employees and all citizens are entitled to and shall receive due process through the court system. The Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) is a large agency and contains approximately 5,500 employees,” he said in a statement.

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