U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes COVID-19 fraud, price-gouging

NEWARK, NJ — Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig announced an update on the office’s enforcement efforts to combat COVID-19 related fraud, including schemes targeting the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and Unemployment Insurance programs, and schemes involving the price-gouging and hoarding of critical personal protective equipment, according to an April 2 press release.

In the past year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey has charged 18 defendants, including individuals and companies, with offenses based on fraud schemes, price-gouging, hoarding and other crimes connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Exploitation of the global pandemic for illicit financial gain victimizes consumers, taxpayers and federal programs alike,” Honig said. “We are working with our law enforcement partners to investigate these schemes and bring to justice all those who would try to take advantage of the programs established by Congress to help America through the pandemic. We will vigorously pursue anyone trying to steal from those programs, engage in the hoarding or price-gouging of necessary personal protective equipment, or otherwise defraud the public.”

Most recently, three defendants were charged last month in connection with an EIDL scheme: George Leguen, 46, of Paramus, and Shyteek Stevenson, 30, of Harrisburg, Pa., were charged in separate complaints with one count each of wire fraud and money laundering. Marc Orival, 37, of College Park, Ga., is charged in a third complaint with two counts each of wire fraud and money laundering.

Among other cases charged in New Jersey and being prosecuted are:

  • Jeffrey Bennett, 26, of Irvington; Tashon Ragan, 21, of Hillside; Jahaad Flip, 21, and Janel Blackman, 41, both of Newark, were arrested in September for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, including soliciting U.S. Postal Service employees to steal checkbooks and credit cards from the mail, depositing fraudulent checks, including pandemic relief checks, and using credit cards without authorization. The four are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Ragan and Flip are also charged with one count of passing fictitious obligations, namely counterfeit EIP checks. Bennett and Ragan are also charged with one count each of aggravated identity theft. 
  • Jefferson Robert, 30, of Newark, was arrested in October by inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and special agents of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General and the FBI, for allegedly engaging in fraud by illegally obtaining unemployment insurance benefits. He is charged by complaint with one count of wire fraud.
  • Fourteen people — including Kassan Knight, 23, and Nasir Johnson, 23, both of Newark — were charged in October with scheming to defraud banks and individuals with counterfeit economic stimulus checks purportedly issued by the Treasury Department pursuant to the CARES Act.

The charges and allegations in these complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty.

To report a COVID-19-related fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling 1-866-720-5721 or completing a form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.