NEW ORLEANS - Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced the launch of Operation Stolen Promise today, a nationwide effort to combat rising instances of COVID-19 fraud and other criminal activity. In Louisiana, the operation has already led to one arrest, April 10, out of HSI New Orleans’ Baton Rouge office, working jointly with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, to arrest Georgia resident Christopher Parris, 39, who is charged with attempting to defraud the Department of Veterans Affairs by procuring $750 million payment for 125 million face masks he knew he could not deliver. HSI Atlanta special agents assisting HSI New Orleans and the VA made the arrest.
As of April 14, HSI special agents have opened over 130 investigations nationwide, seized over three million dollars in illicit proceeds; made nine arrests; executed seven search warrants; disabled over 11,000 COVID-19 domain names and worked alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize over 225 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment (PPE). The launch of the operation is in direct response to the significant increase in criminal activity.
The operation intensifies collaboration with multiple federal departments and agencies, along with business and industry representatives. Surging criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic requires an equally robust investigative response to protect the American public.
“HSI will bring every asset to bear against anyone targeting consumers with financial schemes or fraudulent products that jeopardize the health and safety of Americans,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs. “This unified effort brings a whole-of-government approach to monitor, investigate and arrest those responsible for endangering the public with criminal acts of fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Criminal organizations who have historically been engaged in financial scams are pivoting to exploit the coronavirus pandemic and the associated federal stimulus package for illegal financial gains. These networks are smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment and prohibited testing kits, medicines, and hygiene products, as well as running illicit websites to sell their merchandise. In the coming weeks, it is expected that financial fraud scams involving financial relief, COVID-19 stimulus checks, and traditional boiler room operations will increase. These fraud scams impact government public benefit agencies that are in the process of distributing aid and providing assistance.
“As always, our special agents are deeply committed to the safety of the American public. During this unprecedented time, we are refocusing our efforts to ensure our health care professionals receive legitimate medical equipment and supplies needed to combat the spread of Covid-19 and save American lives,” said New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Jere T. Miles. “Protecting the financial and physical security of our citizens is a top concern and to those who would use this pandemic to defraud their neighbors, friends, and communities for their own financial gain – we will be looking for you and we will find you.”
Operation Stolen Promise combines HSI’s expertise in global trade investigations, financial fraud and cyber investigations with robust private and public partnerships to disrupt and dismantle this criminal activity and strengthen global supply-chain security.
HSI is partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Working Group. Additionally, efforts span across multiple HSI components including the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, HSI International Operations, the Illicit Finance and Proceeds of Crime Unit, and the Cyber Crimes Center (C3).
To report suspected illicit criminal activity or fraudulent schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, email Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov.