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Last Updated on: 28th July 2023, 07:32 pm
The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented government assistance to small businesses and workers across the country. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program dispensed billions of dollars in loans and grants to help companies stay afloat during mandated shutdowns and revenue loss. However, with so much money flowing so quickly, fraud was rampant. Now, the government is cracking down hard on PPP and EIDL fraud with criminal charges carrying steep penalties. If you’re being investigated or charged in Virginia, you need an experienced white collar defense lawyer who understands these complex cases. Here’s why:
Federal prosecutors are making PPP and EIDL fraud a top priority. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is coordinating with the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) to detect, investigate and prosecute cases of COVID relief fraud across the country.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “The Justice Department will continue to zealously pursue accountability for wrongdoing in connection with the distribution of relief funds.”
Dozens of criminal cases have already been filed, and many more are in the pipeline. Charges range from making false statements on loan applications to elaborate money laundering schemes misappropriating millions of dollars in funds.
Prosecutors are throwing the book at defendants, charging multiple felony counts that can lead to decades behind bars. For example, in a recent Virginia case, a McLean business owner was indicted on ten counts, including bank fraud, making false statements and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. He faces up to 30 years in prison just for the bank fraud charge.
The government is sending a clear message that PPP and EIDL fraud will be punished severely. You need an attorney with the skills and experience to vigorously defend your rights.
Prosecuting pandemic fraud involves weaving together multiple complex federal statutes and regulations. Cases typically rely on charges like:
Each charge has its own complicated set of required elements prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, bank fraud requires showing you knowingly executed or attempted to execute a scheme to defraud a financial institution.
An experienced federal defense lawyer knows how to break these laws down and look for weaknesses in the government’s arguments. They can challenge flaws in prosecution’s legal theories and pick apart each charge element by element.
In addition, the PPP and EIDL programs have extensive rules about eligibility, allowable uses of funds and forgiveness. Just determining whether there was fraud requires navigating volumes of federal regulations and SBA guidance.
An attorney well-versed in the programs’ fine print can often find exemptions, exceptions or extenuating circumstances the government failed to consider. This can undermine the prosecution’s entire theory of guilt.
With so much at stake, you need a lawyer who understands the complex interaction of pandemic relief laws, banking regulations and criminal statutes.
A conviction on just one PPP or EIDL fraud charge can potentially land you behind bars for decades. That’s because prosecutors frequently stack multiple serious felony charges carrying severe penalties.
For example, federal bank fraud convictions can result in up to 30 years imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 1344. Wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1343 and making false statements on loan applications under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 are punishable by up to 20 years and 5 years respectively.
If convicted of aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A for using someone else’s identity to commit fraud, you’ll face a mandatory consecutive 2-year prison term per count.
In addition, the amount of loss involved can drastically impact sentencing. Under federal guidelines, higher loss amounts quickly ratchet up the recommended prison time. Even if you plead guilty, you could still face years behind bars.
An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer knows how to meticulously challenge loss calculations and other sentencing enhancements to minimize prison exposure. They also know how to craft sentencing arguments emphasizing mitigating factors to persuade the judge to go below guidelines.
When your future is on the line, you need a lawyer who knows all the strategies to reduce sentencing and avoid a lengthy incarceration.
A conviction on federal fraud charges often means severe collateral damage beyond just incarceration. Prosecutors frequently pursue forfeiture of assets they claim are connected to illegal activity. You could lose your home, bank accounts, vehicles and business.
Being convicted of a felony also means losing fundamental civil rights like voting, serving on a jury and possessing firearms. Many professional licenses are revoked, destroying careers. Any future hopes for public office or leadership roles evaporate. Even getting a job becomes infinitely more difficult with a record.
Immigrants face the additional consequence of deportation if convicted of an “aggravated felony.” While this term is defined broadly, fraud offenses with a loss exceeding just $10,000 qualify. So a PPP or EIDL fraud conviction could get a lawful permanent resident deported and banned from the U.S. for life.
A skilled lawyer knows how to negotiate with prosecutors to minimize forfeitures and collateral consequences. This can be the difference between starting over post-conviction and losing everything.
PPP and EIDL fraud investigations nearly always begin with an audit by the SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG). The SBA OIG looks for red flags like:
If the SBA OIG detects potential fraud, they make a criminal referral to federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI, IRS, Secret Service or Postal Inspectors. These agencies dig deeper, gather additional evidence and ultimately refer cases to federal prosecutors.
However, SBA OIG audits are not foolproof. There are often mistakes and inaccuracies. Experienced attorneys know how to effectively challenge audit conclusions through SBA appeals. This can resolve cases before they ever get to prosecutors.
Even if a criminal investigation has begun, prosecutors rely heavily on SBA determinations of rule violations and loss amounts. Aggressively fighting the audit provides ammunition to undermine the government’s case.
When an audit puts your business and freedom at risk, you need a lawyer who knows how to successfully navigate the SBA appeals process from start to finish.
Facing PPP or EIDL fraud charges in Virginia can be daunting. But the right lawyer can mean the difference between prison and preserving your freedom. Here are tips on finding the best attorney for your case:
Fraud cases are among the most complex federal crimes prosecuted. You want a lawyer well-versed in the nuances of federal criminal defense, not someone dabbling in it occasionally. Look for attorneys who specialize in federal cases and have routinely handled fraud charges like wire fraud, bank fraud and false statements.
Ideally, you want someone who previously worked as a federal prosecutor. This gives them inside knowledge of the prosecution’s approach. Prior white collar defense experience shows they know how to handle the sophisticated legal and financial issues these cases present.
The COVID relief programs have intricate rules and regulations. You want a lawyer intimately familiar with the fine print of PPP loan eligibility, forgiveness criteria, allowable uses of funds and required borrower certifications.
Of course, most attorneys can read up on the rules. But look for those who have already handled PPP and EIDL cases extensively. Their experience with the complex programs can help uncover irregularities and deficiencies in the prosecution’s arguments.
While most federal cases end in plea agreements, you want a lawyer comfortable going to trial. Prosecutors know which defense attorneys actually litigate cases and which ones exclusively negotiate pleas. This affects their settlement posture.
Experience litigating fraud and financial crime cases also prepares your lawyer to thoroughly evaluate weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. This puts them in the strongest position when negotiating a plea deal if you decide to go that route.
Many federal fraud cases also involve parallel civil investigations by agencies like the SBA or SEC. For example, the government may seek civil penalties and recoupment of funds in addition to criminal prosecution.
Having one lawyer handle both sides of your case promotes consistency and efficiency. Information flows freely between the matters, helping build the overall defense strategy. Settlements in one realm can even help resolve the other.
Fraud charges not only threaten people’s livelihoods but also their legacies. The stigma can destroy reputations built up over decades. You need a lawyer who understands these deeply personal implications.
Look for outstanding communication skills and emotional intelligence. Having a lawyer who can see things from your perspective builds trust and rapport. This leads to better strategic legal decisions and case outcomes.
Be sure to research any candidate thoroughly and check for disciplinary sanctions. Most state bar associations provide free online attorney disciplinary records. Be wary of things like license suspensions, reprimands and multiple client grievances.
Also, confirm the lawyer carries malpractice insurance. This covers you financially in case of mistakes made handling your case. Lack of coverage could leave you uncompensated for damages from poor legal work.
Look for lawyers who pursue ongoing training in federal criminal defense and white collar crime litigation. Those certified in Criminal Trial Advocacy show dedication to honing courtroom skills. Membership in professional associations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also demonstrates a commitment to staying abreast of developments in federal law and tactics.
Virginia has many competent criminal defense attorneys. But for a complex federal fraud case with severe penalties on the line, you need more than just competence. Here are some places to focus your search for elite representation:
The top federal criminal defense practices congregate in major metropolitan areas like Northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. These regions generate more sophisticated federal cases, so lawyers see them more routinely and develop specialized expertise.
In particular, Northern Virginia’s proximity to Washington D.C. means many firms handle cases in both jurisdictions. Look for attorneys admitted to practice in Eastern District of Virginia federal court as well as District of Columbia.
Four federal courthouses house the main prosecutors’ offices and hold most trials: Alexandria, Richmond, Norfolk and Roanoke. Firms located near these seats of federal power routinely interact with prosecutors and judges. Local knowledge and relationships can prove invaluable.
Of course, a superb lawyer is worth a longer commute. But proximity often correlates with depth of federal practice experience.
While law school doesn’t define an attorney, elite degrees often correspond with exceptional talent. Graduates of top programs like University of Virginia, William & Mary, Washington & Lee and Georgetown arrive with intellectual horsepower. This brain trust gives them an edge in unraveling legal complexities.
Also look for federal judicial clerkships on resumes. Clerking for a federal judge provides an inside glimpse of the judicial mindset – invaluable when arguing your case.
Other criminal defense lawyers who focus elsewhere often know which attorneys excel in federal fraud litigation. White collar practitioners frequently co-counsel, refer and closely follow colleagues’ work, so they have inside perspective.
Well-connected business lawyers also have insight on who they’d hire if facing criminal charges themselves. Ask them to discreetly recommend federal fraud defense counsel.
Just be sure to independently research any suggestions yourself before deciding.
If you or your business are being investigated or charged with PPP or EIDL fraud, you’re facing a complex, high-stakes legal battle. The right lawyer can help minimize your criminal, financial and reputational exposure. Use the expertise above to search for an attorney with the skills, experience and tenacity to give you the best chance of success. Then thoughtfully evaluate candidates to choose the one who makes you feel most comfortable and confident.
With so much on the line, investing time to select premier legal representation is one of the smartest decisions you can make. An experienced federal fraud lawyer who believes in your case can be the difference between imprisonment and exoneration. Let an elite Virginia attorney protect your rights, freedom and future.
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