Seventeen Broward County sheriff’s deputies in Florida appeared in court on Thursday, facing charges of stealing approximately half a million dollars in pandemic relief funds. The deputies, who are charged separately, are accused of various crimes, including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to court records. If convicted, most deputies could face up to 20 years in prison, while one deputy could face a maximum sentence of five years.
Sheriff Gregory Tony announced during a news conference that the eight law enforcement deputies and nine detention deputies have been suspended. He stated that his office is in the process of terminating their employment, emphasizing that they will be removed from the agency.
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, obtaining around $500,000. Lapointe expressed the importance of preventing the misuse of federal tax dollars intended to support struggling small businesses during the pandemic.
The investigation into the agency’s employees began in late 2021 after the Broward Sheriff’s Office learned about the emerging trend of pandemic relief fraud within public service agencies. A tip was received, suggesting the involvement of some employees in fraudulent activities. The office’s investigators identified approximately 100 employees who had applied for COVID-19 relief loans. Subsequently, the investigation was handed over to the U.S. attorney’s office and the Federal Reserve Board.
Sheriff Tony emphasized his commitment to transparency and accountability within the organization, stating that he expects integrity and excellence from every Broward Sheriff’s Office employee.
The Paycheck Protection Program, part of the federal relief package enacted in 2020, provides forgivable small-business loans to aid those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds must be used for employee wages, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program aims to provide economic relief to small businesses experiencing temporary revenue loss.