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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Eleven charged with theft of COVID-19 economic aid

U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico W. Stephen Muldrow

By The Star Staff

A federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico has returned 11 separate indictments charging 11 individuals with the theft of about $858,000 in federal assistance money provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announced Thursday.

The FBI, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (PRPB) and the Puerto Rico Treasury Department investigated the cases.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government provided three rounds of economic-impact payments to eligible individuals in Puerto Rico. The secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (USDT) approved the Economic Impact Payment Distribution Plan and the Plan for the Disbursement of the Third Economic Impact Payment, which enabled the island Treasury Department, as the local administrator, to distribute the economic assistance payment to eligible individuals as required by federal regulation.

The Unified Internal Revenue System (SURI by its Spanish initials) was the section of the local Treasury Department that processed and distributed the economic impact payments. Those payments were automatic if the SURI confirmed the taxpayer’s bank account information.

Individuals who were not verified could apply for the payments in the island Treasury Department’s online portal, which required that an applicant provide an address, name, social security number, dependent information and banking information. The applicant then would be required to certify an oath verifying the integrity of the information provided. If the applicant was eligible for the economic impact payment, the island Treasury would deposit the payments into the applicant’s bank account.

According to court documents, the defendants, whose identities are yet to be made public, committed the theft of federal funds and received multiple economic payments using others’ personal identification information.

The 11 indictments charge 11 individuals with theft, appropriation, and receipt of stolen government money in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641.

Some of the individuals were also charged with engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity and laundering of economic instruments in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1956 and 1957. Those additional charges are related to efforts to structure subsequent financial transactions to avoid financial reporting requirements and to illegally transfer and use the stolen funds for other purposes, including retail purchases like jewelry.

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