Archive for the ‘US Attorney & DOJ’ Category

California federal prosecutors and FBI to hold telephone Town Hall Monday on COVID-19 scams

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

Seniors, public invited to listen – must register, first

SAN FRANCISCO – Prosecutors from the four United States Attorney’s Offices in California, along with representatives from the FBI, will participate in a telephonic town hall to help California residents identify and avoid fraudulent schemes related to Coronavirus and COVID-19.  The event is being coordinated by the American Association of Retired Persons (“AARP”).

The telephonic town hall will happen on Monday, April 20 from 10 to 11 a.m. PDT. During the event, a special agent from the FBI and a federal prosecutor will make presentations, and participants from across California will be allowed to ask questions to a panel of Assistant United States Attorneys from the four offices that serve California.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is providing the infrastructure for the event. Approximately 100,000 AARP members will receive a phone call Monday morning inviting them to participate in the town hall. Those who wish to receive an invitation may sign up here (https://vekeo.com/aarpcalifornia/).

During the current health crisis, federal investigators and prosecutors continue to fulfill their critical mission of protecting public safety. Federal officials have prioritized the disruption, investigation and prosecution of crimes related to Coronavirus and COVID-19, including fraudulent schemes, unapproved treatments, and scams related to stimulus money. During the town hall, federal officials will discuss the types of schemes currently being seen, along with tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Soon after the town hall event, a recording will be available at https://vekeo.com/aarpcalifornia/.

REPORT COVID-19 CRIME.  Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline: 866-720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov.

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U.S. Attorney General Barr issues statement on Religious Practice and Social Distancing

Friday, April 17th, 2020

Department of Justice files Statement of Interest in Mississippi church case

U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Official portrait by DOJ.

On Tuesday, April 14, 2020, United States Attorney General William P. Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, issued the following statement:

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President has issued guidelines calling on all Americans to do their part to slow the spread of a dangerous and highly contagious virus.  Those measures are important because the virus is transmitted so easily from person to person, and because it all too often has life-threatening consequences for its victims, it has the potential to overwhelm health care systems when it surges.

To contain the virus and protect the most vulnerable among us, Americans have been asked, for a limited period of time, to practice rigorous social distancing.  The President has also asked Americans to listen to and follow directions issued by state and local authorities regarding social distancing.  Social distancing, while difficult and unfamiliar for a nation that has long prided itself on the strength of its voluntary associations, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of American lives from an imminent threat.  Scrupulously observing these guidelines is the best path to swiftly ending COVID-19’s profound disruptions to our national life and resuming the normal economic life of our country.  Citizens who seek to do otherwise are not merely assuming risk with respect to themselves, but are exposing others to danger.  In exigent circumstances, when the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances.

But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.  Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.  Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.

Today, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in support of a church in Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up.  The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.[1]  The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.

As we explain in the Statement of Interest, where a state has not acted evenhandedly, it must have a compelling reason to impose restrictions on places of worship and must ensure that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance its compelling interest.  While we believe that during this period there is a sufficient basis for the social distancing rules that have been put in place, the scope and justification of restrictions beyond that will have to be assessed based on the circumstances as they evolve.

Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans.  This is true more so than ever during this difficult time.  The pandemic has changed the ways Americans live their lives.  Religious communities have rallied to the critical need to protect the community from the spread of this disease by making services available online and in ways that otherwise comply with social distancing guidelines.

The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”

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U.S. Attorney urges public to report suspected COVID-19 fraud

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson of the Northern District of California today urged the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF e-mail address disaster@leo.gov.

In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes. The NCDF Hotline can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes.

“Unfortunately, there are fraudsters out there who will try to use this public health emergency to scam the public and profit on the pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. “As communities throughout Northern California take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, we are working closely with our law enforcement partners to guard against fraud and bring swift justice to those who try to ply their scams in our district.”

Some examples of these schemes include:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

In a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness activities.   The Northern District of California has appointed an Assistant U.S. Attorney to be a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator who can be reached at 415-436-7200.

The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate, and prosecute fraud schemes.  The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.

To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

 

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