Five Internal Revenue Service employees in Tennessee and Mississippi have been charged with schemes to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) federal stimulus program and other covid relief funds that were part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The programs were designed to help business owners meet financial obligations during the pandemic.
“These individuals – acting out of pure greed – abused their positions by taking government funds meant for citizens and businesses who desperately needed it,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Kevin G. Ritz in a Justice Department press release.
The five IRS employees made false loan applications that collectively sought over $1 million. The money was spent on cars, luxury items from Gucci and trips to Las Vegas, according to court documents.
Each IRS fraud suspect faces up to 20 years in prison per wire fraud count and 10 years for money laundering.
The Small Business Administration used banks – which have a record of discrimination against Black Americans – to roll out the PPP loans.
PPP funds infamously ran out after many big businesses received funding from banks with whom they had pre-existing relationships, while mom-and-pop businesses were left in the dust. The problem was magnified for Black-owned small businesses.
Under the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August, the IRS was approved $80 billion to beef up tax enforcement and hiring. To that end, the agency could add close to 87,000 full-time employees including IRS agents over 10 years.
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With weeks to go until the midterm election, Republican U.S. Rep. Troy E. Nehls of Texas saw and seized an opportunity, drawing attention to himself in the process.
“Five IRS employees stole COVID relief funds for Gucci shoes and trips to Las Vegas. Now imagine what 87,000 IRS agents will do,” Nehls tweeted.
Twitter user just Lori responded, “We don’t have to imagine it. This is a list of only 13 Republicans who basically did the same thing, EXCEPT WORSE.”
Photos: IRS recruiting program photo posted on Twitter by U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) @RepThomasMassie, https://twitter.com/RepThomasMassie/status/1559631370607017985?s=20&t=fIaxMZvH0gr7h_jz9pjDTg / U.S. Rep. Troy E. Nehls District 22 (R-Richmond)