Updated: Saturday, March 29, 2020
Note: If you’re facing federal criminal charges related to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Naples, Miami or elsewhere in Florida, contact a federal defense lawyer immediately to ensure that your rights are protected and that you don’t say anything to incriminate yourself.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida surged past 4,000, federal officials are making it clear that attempts to exploit the global pandemic by defrauding fellow Floridians will be dealt with swiftly and harshly, announcing a zero-tolerance policy for Coronavirus-related federal crimes, which are bave become prevalent, according to the FBI.
“We are focused on COVID-19 scams and will prioritize prosecuting fraudsters who try to capitalize on this health crisis,” said South Florida U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who joined fellow Florida federal judges Maria Chapa Lopez (Central District) and Lawrence Keefe (Northern District) in announcing a coordinated effort to step up prosecutions. This comes on the heels of a memorandum sent to all U.S. Attorneys by U.S. Attorney General, William P. Barr on March 16, stating, “[e]very U.S. Attorney’s Office is thus hereby directed to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct.”
Florida’s attorney general releases COVID-19 fraud alert
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a Consumer Alert recently, urging Floridians to be extremely cautious about COVID-19 testing services, and of unsolicited text messages, emails or calls that offer cash or other COVID-19 related relief or stimulus. Those behind such communications could face charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, telemarketing fraud and/or Internet fraud.
Those behind a spate of scams targeting senior citizens are likely to face Medicare fraud charges. Those posing as 301(c)s could be charged with charity fraud. Any of these federal fraud charges could mean decades in prison, making it imperative that you retain a Coronavirus federal defense lawyer immediately after you’re arrested, or even if you feel you might be under investigation.
Ensure that you speak with an attorney before saying something that might incriminate you.
Woman who allegedly coughed on grocery store food, people faces terroristic threat charges
March 27, 2020: Police arrested a 35-year-old woman for allegedly coughing on food at a Pennsylvania grocery store while claiming she was infected with Coronavirus. She was charged with four counts – two of them for making terroristic threats using a biological agent – which could qualify as a federal crime. Grocery store managers said they had to throw away $35,000 worth of food and sanitize the store due to her alleged actions. If this is tried in federal court, the defendant will need a skilled federal fraud defense attorney to defend her.
First federal criminal charges filed related to Coronavirus
March 26, 2020: Actor Keith Middlebrook became the first person to be arrested and charged with a federal crime stemming from COVID-19. He is accused of peddling a bogus Coronavirus cure online across social media, trying to secure investments with promises of enormous returns. At one point, Middlebrook allegedly claimed that his product was supported by a Trump Administration physician. He’s facing one count of wire fraud, which could mean as many as 20 years behind bars, if convicted, emphasizing the importance of connecting with a Coronavirus defense attorney as soon as you’re charged with a crime.
Computer- and Internet-related white collar federal crimes
March 26: Many employees are working from home during the pandemic, increasing the likelihood that confidential, sensitive and proprietary company information and other data will be stolen. While theft of data itself might not be a federal crime, using it for extortion or blackmail purposes could make it one. Today, the FBI issued a warning that online thieves could take advantage of the $2 trillion in stimulus package by tricking Americans into divulging their passwords or other sensitive information via email or other Internet means. That type of crime is known as phishing, and is just one of many types of federal crimes involving computers and the Internet.
First federal COVID-19 litigation
March 21, 2020: The first COVID-19-related federal action was taken today, involving an alleged wire fraud scheme to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19. Per the complaint, a website is accused of exploiting the pandemic using a wire fraud scheme, claiming that had “free” Coronavirus vaccine kits from the World Health Organization (WHO), and would send them to buyers who paid shipping costs.
Coronavirus insider trading allegations plague four U.S. senators
March 20, 2020: Four U.S. Senators have come under fire for allegedly using inside knowledge of the Coronavirus virus to offload millions of dollars in personal stock before the crisis began, which would be federal crime known as insider trading, or securities fraud. Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA), Richard Burr (NC), Kelly Loeffler (GA) and Jim Inhofe (OK) have all faced scrutiny, though no charges have been filed to date. Still, it’s a very visible example of how federal charges could come against anyone and out of nowhere as we navigate through these uncharted waters in Florida and throughout the United States.
Another federal crime involving government officials that could stem from the COVID-19 pandemic is bribery. If it can be proven that an official was paid to divert resources or funds, a he or she could spend many years behind bars, making it essential to hire a Coronavirus federal defense attorney the moment you suspect you’re being investigated in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale or Naples.
Hate crimes against Asian-Americans
March 19: Citing the pandemic being nicknamed the “Asian flu,” Asian-Americans across the country have been reporting an increase in hate-related crimes. It’s become so prevalent in New York, for example, that the governor recently announced a new hotline to report alleged hate crimes against Asians. Hate crimes are tried at the federal level in Florida and throughout the United States.
The effect of skyrocketing unemployment
While it’s too early to tell how many jobs have permanently been lost by Coronavirus, the pandemic has already been linked to a staggering number of furloughed workers, which has led to a flood of unemployment claims, especially in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The Florida Unemployment Department is finding to be increasingly difficult to accommodate these claims, which are pouring in by the thousands.
During times of crisis, people often panic as money grows short, and otherwise law-abiding citizens could find themselves knowingly or unknowingly committing federal crimes. If this has happened to you, immediately reach out to a private Coronavirus fraud defense lawyer to ensure your rights are protected.
‘But I didn’t know…’
Ignorance is not an acceptable defense in a state case, let alone in federal court. Many people facing federal charges for the first time are confused by the legal terminology and initially don’t understand the seriousness of the charges. You have many options, but the correct ones must be utilized, and done immediately. That’s one of the main reasons for retaining an expert federal defense lawyer with decades of experience handling thousands of such cases in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Naples and Miami.
Private defense for Coronavirus-related federal criminal cases in Florida
If you’ve been charged with a federal crime stemming from the Coronavirus pandemic, consult with a COVID-19 federal defense attorney in Florida immediately. After you’re arrested and questioned, you’ll be assigned a public defender who likely has dozens of other cases scheduled – and although he or she probably is well meaning – only so much time can be spent on each case under those circumstances. When your freedom is on the line, expert defense is imperative.
At Joffe Law, P.A. we’ll work tirelessly to ensure that your rights are protected with an eye toward procuring the best results possible on your behalf. Our federal criminal defense attorneys can meet you in Fort Lauderdale, Naples, Miami, Tampa or West Palm Beach. If COVID-19-related lockdown restrictions go into effect, don’t worry – A lot can be done by phone.