Seventeen Florida sheriff’s deputies appeared in court on Thursday, facing charges of embezzling approximately half a million dollars in pandemic relief funds. The accused deputies from Broward County are individually charged with a range of crimes, as revealed in court records. Most of them face charges of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, one deputy is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which has a maximum sentence of five years.
Following the allegations, Sheriff Gregory Tony announced during a news conference that all eight law enforcement deputies and nine detention deputies have been suspended. He further stated that his office is currently undergoing the legal process to terminate their employment. Sheriff Tony expressed his determination, saying, “At the end of the day, they will be gone.”
According to Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida, the deputies collectively defrauded the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, resulting in a loss of around $500,000. Lapointe emphasized the significance of preventing such fraud, stating, “No matter the amount, we will not allow limited federal tax dollars, which were intended to provide a lifeline to small businesses as they struggled to stay afloat during the economically devastating pandemic lockdown, to be swindled by those who were employed in a position of trust and cast aside their duty to uphold and abide by the law.”
The investigation into the agency’s 5,600 employees began late in 2021, after the Broward Sheriff’s Office became aware of the emerging trend of pandemic relief fraud within public service agencies. A tip received by the office suggested that some of their employees might have participated in fraudulent activities. Subsequently, Broward Sheriff’s Office investigators discovered approximately 100 employees who had applied for COVID-19 relief loans. The case was eventually handed over to the U.S. attorney’s office and the Federal Reserve Board for further investigation.
Sheriff Tony, who has prioritized transparency and accountability within his organization for the past five years, expressed his expectations for integrity and commitment to excellence from every Broward Sheriff’s Office employee.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Lapointe confirmed that the investigation into possible fraud is ongoing. The Paycheck Protection Program, part of the federal coronavirus relief package implemented in 2020, provides billions of dollars in forgivable small-business loans to support Americans facing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding must be utilized for employee wages, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program aims to offer economic relief to small businesses experiencing temporary revenue losses.
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