Colbert said any audit or investigation into suspected program fraud last year will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Treasury once all CARES Act programs have closed out later this year.
“We cannot speculate on what the Treasury Department will do to fine/penalize those suspected of fraud. Those individuals who have voluntarily returned their CARES Act rental assistance checks will be identified to the Treasury Department as having done so,” he said.
Prosecutor: ‘I was repulsed’
Last year’s rental assistance program was funded by the federal CARES Act to help keep people in their homes during the pandemic.
“No doubt these benefit programs were designed to quickly get funds in the hands of those who need it most,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Vipal Patel.
“No matter if a fraud scheme is easy or hard to perpetrate; a lie is a lie, and fraud is fraud,” he said. “You can expect enforcement efforts from all levels of government, local, state, and federal, particularly when federally funded programs are administered by state and local entities.”
Last month, a Dayton woman was sentenced to 24 months in prison for fraudulently obtaining more than $2.5 million from federal pandemic assistance programs for businesses. Federal prosecutors say she claimed to have more than 70 employees at her company, when in fact there were few or none.
A local man was charged Tuesday with receiving more than $120,000 in fraudulent pandemic relief funds by allegedly registering a new business last year to get money then using it for personal use.
FBI officials won’t say if they are investigating Montgomery County’s rental assistance program.
“While we cannot discuss specific investigations, the FBI is committed to working with our partners to investigate fraud related to the CARES Act and other federal programs,” said FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren. “It is important for these funds to be used as intended and that the laws regarding eligibility are followed.”
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck said his office has not been contacted by any investigatory agency about filing criminal charges related to the rental assistance program.
Asked about the newspaper’s findings, Heck said: “I was repulsed, but not surprised, as we prosecuted contractors for taking advantage of and defrauding victims of the tornado. Whenever money is involved, there are undeserving people who will try to get some for themselves.”
Brown, Portman react
Federal lawmakers touted the importance of the CARES Act to deliver desperately needed help to people impacted by the pandemic. But they said the Dayton Daily News’ findings reinforces the importance of oversight.
“We know that rental assistance has been an important tool for keeping Ohioans in their homes, as mentioned in the article. Any fraud of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable, and Sen. Brown is glad that thanks to the reporting of the Dayton Daily News, misused funds have been returned,” said a statement from the office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
“Sen. Brown will push for continued Congressional oversight of federal funding to protect Ohio taxpayers, and will push to ensure bad actors are held accountable so that their actions aren’t harming Ohioans who rely on this critical funding to prevent widespread evictions amid a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”
Emmalee Cioffi, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said actions taken by Congress last year helped millions of families and business and saved the economy from collapse.
“Both the executive branch, which implements and enforces these laws, and the Congress, which oversees this process, have a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and clearly there is more that must be done to ensure that is happening,” she said.