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Jun 11, 2024, 4:51pm EDT
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Minnesota jury convicts 5 in first trial to stem from huge pandemic fraud scheme

Insights from NBC News, The Associated Press, and Federal News Network

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The News

A Minnesota jury convicted five of seven defendants on Friday in the first trial to stem from one of the largest pandemic-related fraud cases in the country. Two defendants were acquitted.

The group were the first of 70 people alleged by federal prosecutors to have participated in a scheme that cost taxpayers $250 million.

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The trial was fraught with drama: in its sixth week, a juror was dismissed during deliberations after a bag containing $120,000 was dropped off at their home and an offer of more money if they voted to acquit.

During the pandemic, fraudsters are believed to have stolen more than $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funds, an Associated Press investigation found.

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Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Republicans criticized pandemic-era relief oversight

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Sources:  
The Associated Press, NBC News

Some Republican lawmakers have long argued that the pandemic-era aid programs were ”prescription for waste, fraud and abuse,” and cases like Minnesota’s are used as evidence to that point. Kentucky Congressman James Comer, chairman of a committee investigating alleged oversight failures by the Biden administration, and called COVID relief abuse the “greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history.” Democrats have pushed back, noting that while the programs weren’t perfect, they nonetheless saved lives, businesses, and jobs.

Foreign crime groups cashed out on COVID programs

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Source:  
NBC News

A perfect storm of weak identity-verification requirements and a breakneck payout pace enabled criminals to win big by fleecing the COVID relief funds, law enforcement officials have said — and at least half of the stolen money went to foreign crime groups, they believe. “It’s definitely an economic attack on the United States,” said FBI Deputy Assistant Director Jay Greenberg. Some cybersecurity experts said foreign actors’ targeting of government money mark an “escalation” in foreign cybercrime. The CEO of ID.me, a service that verifies identities, likened the rampant theft to “letting people just walk right into Fort Knox and take the gold, and nobody even asked any questions.”

Governments turn to AI to help detect scams

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Sources:  
NextGov, Federal News Network

As the US and other governments work to uncover COVID-related scams, they can now use more advanced technologies such as AI to identify signs of fraud that could otherwise fly under the radar, Nextgov/FCW’s Chris Westphal argued. Many agencies are already using AI for this purpose, Westphal said, but “it’s vital that these agencies go beyond current measures” to use the tech to its fullest potential. At the same time, AI is already helping people use more sophisticated ways to scam the government — and federal investigators are scrambling to get ahead of it.

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