U.S. Justice Dept taps chief prosecutor to lead COVID fraud probes

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WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday tapped federal prosecutor Kevin A. Chambers to lead the department's efforts to help investigate fraudsters who used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to bilk government assistance programs.

Chambers' appointment as the Justice Department's chief pandemic fraud prosecutor was previewed by President Joe Biden during last week's State of the Union address.

Chambers currently serves as the associate deputy attorney general, according to his LinkedIn profile.

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He worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2010 through 2014, and then worked at the law firm of Latham & Watkins. From June 2018 through January 2021, he served as the co-chair of the firm's Washington, D.C., litigation and trial department.

The Justice Department said Chambers intends to focus his efforts on larger-scale criminal enterprises and foreign actors, and that he will be setting up strike teams to prepare for the next wave of cases.

Tackling criminal and civil fraud stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has been a Justice Department priority.

In May 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force. That group, led by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, will meet on Thursday and formally announce Chambers' new role.

Many of the fraud cases the department investigates are pegged to U.S. government assistance programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and Medicare.

To date, the Justice Department said its enforcement efforts have alleged fraud tied to $8 billion in pandemic relief.

It has brought over 1,000 criminal cases involving losses of $1.1 billion, and charged more than 1,800 individuals and businesses in civil litigation alleging fraud in more than $6 billion worth of loans.

“We will continue to hold accountable those who seek to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, to protect vulnerable populations, and to safeguard the integrity of taxpayer-funded programs," Garland said in a statement.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chris Reese and Mark Porter

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