OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The federal government is taking a closer look at Oklahoma, with a special partnership aimed at finding those who took advantage of emergency COVID-19 funding.
The need was immediate, and money came swiftly. As the pandemic ramped up and businesses closed their doors, Congress rushed to pass the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
With approximately $2 trillion up for business emergency finances, fraudsters seized an opportunity.
“These pandemic relief funds were intended to be used by those who were really hurting financially because of the pandemic,” said Robert Troester, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma. “Unfortunately, individuals have sought to exploit that for their own personal benefit and gain.”
Cases of fraud have been found across the country.
But it was an In Your Corner report done last year, that seemed to open the floodgates for authorities in the Western District of Oklahoma.
In 2020, employees for metro boutique ‘Oliver and Olivia’ told News 4 business was booming.
But the boutique failed to fill timely orders, and in late 2020 struggled financially.
Owner Jill Ford applied for and received multiple CARES Act loans, which totaled more than $827,000.
During this same time, Jill purchased an $800,000 home, bought a Cadillac, leased another Cadillac and a Mercedes, before she closed the business, opened a second business and fired her employees.
Many of those employees say they never received their final paychecks.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office soon launched their own investigation and teamed up with the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery’s Office.
“There were indications that the individual may have been using the money to obtain luxury cars and for home improvement rather than on the business,” noted Miller.
Jill Ford was charged and pleaded guilty in January to bank fraud and money laundering.
The two DOJ branches announced a partnership shortly after, hoping to streamline similar investigations to come.
“Sometimes in the bureaucratic wheels of government, communication is a challenge,” said U.S. Attorney Troester. “We wanted to ensure that we did not have any communication problems with them because we wanted to have a robust and quick response to any matters that they find in Oklahoma.”
As a result, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will provide support for the inspector general, and the two departments plan on meeting regularly to discuss pending investigations in the Western District.
They’re calling on Oklahomans who suspect fraud. Anyone who wishes to report should visit the following links: