We are happy to commend the U.S. Department of Justice for responding so quickly – in a matter of days! – to address misconduct related to the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, March 20, Attorney General Barr issued a statement noting the Department’s concerns regarding Covid-19 related frauds and calling on the public to alert the Department of any such wrongdoing. AG Barr called for the Department to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of illegal conduct related to the pandemic. You can view the Department’s entire announcement here.
A day after this announcement (on a Saturday, no less), the Justice Department filed its first enforcement action related to the coronavirus pandemic. The action was filed in federal court in Texas against operators of a fraudulent website. As detailed in the government’s complaint, the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” were engaging in a fraudulent scheme to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19. The website claimed to offer consumers vaccine kits from the World Health Organization (WHO) for a shipping charge of $4.95. However, there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccines. The government also sought an order temporarily shutting down the website.
The following day (that’s right, on Sunday) the federal judge assigned to the case signed a temporary restraining order requiring that the registrar of the fraudulent website immediately block its public access.
In less than 48 hours the Justice Department was able to stop this fraudulent (and dangerous) scheme to unlawfully profit from misinformation about a public health crisis.
This lightening fast action is an impressive example of the dedication and hard work at the core of the Department of Justice (not to mention the clerks, judges and other public employees of our federal judicial system). These swift acts send a loud and clear message that any effort to illegally profit from this pandemic will not be tolerated.
We hope the Justice Department keeps this up and, as we noted just a few days ago, uses the False Claims Act to prosecute anyone effort to improperly profit from the government’s multi-trillion dollar effort to address the economic fallout from this pandemic.