Feds: Five IRS Employees Stole $418,000 in Covid Funds
October 24, 2022
Five current and former Internal Revenue Service employees from Tennessee and Mississippi are charged with stealing $418,125 from federal programs for Covid-19 relief after fraudulently applying for $1.1 million.
The five people, four of whom were still employed by the IRS, applied for federal funds through the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, according to the Department of Justice.
They allegedly submitted bogus loan applications, gaming the system to lavish themselves with luxury goods, spa services, cars, clothes, jewelry, and travel, prosecutors allege. One claimed to run a nonexistent clothing business, and all allegedly filed fraudulent applications.
"These individuals — acting out of pure greed — abused their positions by taking government funds meant for citizens and businesses who desperately needed it," said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Kevin G. Ritz.
The five individuals — three from Memphis, one from Cordova, Tennessee and one from Olive Branch, Mississippi — were each charged with wire fraud, and one was charged with money laundering, the DOJ said.
The funds were spent on a Mercedes-Benz, Gucci and other luxury clothing, jewelry, a trip to Las Vegas, manicures, and massages. Some money was deposited into a personal investment account.
Each person collected between $27,550 and $171,400, the DOJ said.
The five people charged were prosecuted by the fraud section of the DOJ Criminal Division and are part of the more than 150 defendants that stole more than $75 million from fraudulently obtained PPP funds since the inception of the CARES Act, the DOJ said.
“It is especially egregious when individuals that hold positions of public trust engage in criminal activity,” Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware of the SBA, Office of Inspector General, said in a statement. “OIG is a ready partner in safeguarding the integrity of SBA’s programs and in bringing wrongdoers to justice.”
Phones Tracking Illegal Migrants Cost $407M Annually
October 25, 2022
The dramatic surge in illegal border crossings in the last 18 months has forced the Department of Homeland Security to get creative quickly.
To keep track of the whereabouts of the millions of crossers as they are released into the United States with only notices to appear before an immigration judge at a later date, DHS is using SmartLINK cell phones as one tool in the alternatives-to-detention toolkit, costing an estimated $407 million per year.
The number of SmartLINK users has exploded, now at 256,000, using facial recognition and GPS monitoring, according to Border Report. When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests, migrants must take photos of themselves, so they can be tracked through GPS.
The phones are used only for tracking someone who entered illegally, and don’t have internet access. The person in possession of the phone can only take a call when an ICE agent is trying to reach them, according to Border Report. Migrants also have access to calendar items with dates for upcoming court appearances.
Proponents tout SmartLINK monitoring as a less costly alternative to detaining someone. The cost per device, is about $4.36 per day rather than $140 to hold someone in detention. A bargain? With 256,000 in use that comes in at over $1.1 million each day, or $407 million per year.
ICE estimated the number of SmartLINK users has increased by more than 880 percent from the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, Border Report said.
On top of the SmartLINK monitoring, there are 41,000 people being monitored via GPS ankle bracelets, and 20,000 via telephone reporting, bringing the total of people under the alternatives-to-detention program close to 317,000, according to data tracking the program.
While the program is far less costly than detention, there’s no data to prove its effectiveness and what incentive migrants have for hanging on to the devices once they are released.
U.S. Gives Battery Technology Worth $15M to China
October 26, 2022
The U.S. Department of Energy illegally gave China $15 million in taxpayer-funded, groundbreaking technology for a powerful rechargeable battery used for grid energy storage.
It took six years and more than $15 million from taxpayers to develop a vanadium redox flow battery that scientists thought could power a house and could be charged and recharged for up to 30 years, according to an investigation by NPR and the Northwest News Network.
But the DOE gave the technology to the Chinese in 2017 as part of a sublicence, and in 2021 as part of a license transfer.
UniEnergy Technologies’ engineers were building off work that a team of scientists had done in government lab in Washington State in 2006, costing $15 million.
But the company was forced to shutter, and the batteries are now manufactured by a company in Dalian, China.
Another company, Forever Energy, had been trying unsuccessfully to get a license to manufacture the batteries, being put off by the DOE for more than a year, NPR reported.
“The federal agency allowed the technology and jobs to move overseas, violating its own licensing rules while failing to intervene on behalf of U.S. workers in multiple instances,” NPR reported.
The DOE didn’t explain why it allowed this to happen and is doing an internal review of vanadium battery technology licensing and whether that license has violated American manufacturing requirements.
Now, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have demanded answers from DOE Inspector General Teri Donaldson, who has agreed to conduct a full investigation into the matter.
While the DOE says it ended the contract after NPR asked questions about the Chinese license, the lawmakers want assurance that it never happens again.
Throwback Thursday: In 1979, Helicopter Used for Party Hats Art Project
October 27, 2022
In 1979, the National Endowment for the Arts spent $1,000 — $4,088 in 2022 dollars — on a Hawaiian art project that entailed a helicopter filming 400 people below wearing colorful party hats.
For this wasteful spending, the NEA received a Golden Fleece Award from Sen. William Proxmire.
Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave awards to wasteful and nonsensical spending, eventually handing out 168 Golden Fleece Awards between 1975 and 1988.
For the art project — funded by a larger $20 million federal-state matching funds program — dubbed the “Hanauma Bay Colored Headcovers Happening,” a rented helicopter filmed the people below as they sported the “shiny, paper party hats color coded to the wearer’s sex and race,” Proxmire said at the time.
The project was part of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, considered “contemporary environmental conceptual art.”
A group of art students and a professor at the University of Hawaii came up with the idea for the project.
“Contemporary art, and this is contemporary art, is conceptual,” Proxmire quoted the professor as saying. “Meanings are layered, referring to things and ideas that are not there.”
Proxmire said he supports the free expression of artists, but argued federal funds — taxpayers’ money — shouldn’t be used to pay for it.
“While the amount of money involved in this project is relatively small and therefore worthy of only a runner-up Fleece Award, a significant portion of federal funds is spent without any federal oversight,” he said at the time. “This mindless method of spending is exactly why there is so much waste and so little accountability in government spending.”
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.