As an unpredictable virus filled hospitals and emptied city streets in March 2020, Congress passed a stimulus plan to bail out business owners forced to shutter their storefronts. Banks were told to prioritize speed with the applications, ultimately dumping $800 billion into the economy. The idea being, to get the all the money to offset a crisis and chase the money if it gets in the wrong hands. Well, there is going to be a lot of chasing, because it is estimated that speed put about $60 billion PPP loans into fraudsters’ pockets. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors in local offices around the country have now started that long and complicated chase, bringing charges against more than 2,230 people so far. And it’s only just begun.
The Eastern Washington office in February 2022 formed a “strike force” to expedite the lengthy investigative process typical for fraud cases. Statewide, prosecutors have since indicted 28 people and one company on charges including wire fraud, bank fraud and identity theft. Padilla-Reyna is one of them. Those charged with pandemic fraud in Washington range from a Seattle tech executive to a meth-addicted state employee in Moses Lake. There’s a suspended dentist and a security guard, a baseball ticket hawker and nuclear site contractors. One was a senior state official in Nigeria who commissioned a magazine story about his own philanthropy and was later grabbed by federal agents in a New York airport. Another is a former Spokane cocaine mule who spent 15 years locked up and is now on dialysis for kidney failure.
Lack of resources and funding limits a task forces success. Facing what by some estimates could be more than $1 billion in fraud, prosecutors in Washington have charged fewer cases than their counterparts in states like Georgia, but more than some other comparable states. A few defendants have netted up to five-year prison sentences for elaborate identity theft scams. Less ambitious schemers, who pleaded guilty to stealing under $55,000 each, received probation and were ordered to return their ill-gotten loans.
Shout out to the Washington State Strike Force for their endless pursuit for the work they have put towards what must seem like an endless pile of fraud cases.
Today’s Fraud Of The Day is based on article “The WA ‘strike force’ chasing millions in COVID-19 relief fraud” published by Crosscut on May 3, 2023
Karla Padilla-Reyna had a quintessential American Dream story. A first-generation immigrant, she harnessed an entrepreneurial spirit to rise within the insurance and financial services industry in the Yakima Valley.
Padilla-Reyna declined to share more about her background, but her website states she went on to earn a Ph.D. in business, teach at a local college and found multiple businesses. She started a family and served as a member of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs.