Ohio congressman asks Merrick Garland for info on misappropriated COVID-19 funds

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday asking for details on ongoing charges against individuals accused of misappropriating COVID-19 relief funds. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Aug. 29 (UPI) -- A Republican congressman on Tuesday sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding answers about the alleged misappropriation of billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief funding.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said 371 people are being charged for misappropriating over $836 million in pandemic-related funds.

"The Justice Department has now seized over $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that criminals had stolen and charged over 3,000 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country," Garland said last week.

Now Congressional Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus chairperson Rep. Brad Wenstrup wants to know the details of who is being charged.

"As of January 2023, the federal government spent approximately $4.6 trillion on aid programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is equal to more than was spent by the entire federal government in every fiscal year prior to 2020. This massive growth in government spending caused inflation and expanded the government to unprecedented levels," Wenstrup, R-Ohio, wrote in his letter.

"Worse still, these costly COVID-19 era programs were rife with waste, fraud and abuse. Criminals inside and outside the United States stole approximately $280 billion in taxpayer funds intended for struggling families, businesses, hospitals, and others," Wenstrup wrote.

Wenstrup emphasized that some of the fraud had emanated from abroad.

"Some of these fraudulent actors were based outside the United States and may involve international criminal organizations. Estimates imply that at least half of all stolen COVID-19 relief funds went to Russian, Chinese and Nigerian criminals," Wenstrup said.

Westrup demanded "all documents and communications regarding metrics or estimates the loss of COVID relief program funds due to fraud by international or overseas actors and criminal organizations."