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Time to prosecute COVID-19 fraud to be extended in Illinois

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(The Center Square) – A new Illinois law extends the statute of limitation for state officials to go after fraud in COVID-19-related programs.

Earlier this year, state Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, asked Kristen Richards, the former head of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, how much money was stolen, to which she did not have an answer.

“Looks like you were moved from a failing department that you were the director of to another department based on what had happened in the last two years,” Niemerg said.

“I don’t think that the Department of Employment Security failed whatsoever,” Richard said.

Of the known fraud estimated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the taxpayer cost in IDES unemployment fraud is over $2 billion, but the full scope is unclear.

During a separate committee hearing earlier this year, IDES Acting Director Ray Marchiori said the state was unprepared for the pandemic.

“Unprecedented health crisis that we’ve all never seen before worldwide and the systems were clearly over, this is an omni effect, right, we’ve testified to those numbers before,” Marchiori said.

On Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 3304. Before the bill was signed, state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, said the bipartisan measure that passed unanimously may not go far enough.

“I guess it doesn’t make anybody in the governor’s administration to actually do anything but if you want to do something, we’re giving you more tools,” Caulkins told The Center Square.

Not clawing back the fraud will cost employers higher unemployment taxes, Caulkins said.

“The General Assembly recognizes this and is trying to give the governor some power to go back and to reclaim this money if they can find the perpetrators,” he said.

The measure that goes into effect Jan. 1, allows prosecution of any fraudulent activity connected to COVID-19-related programs “to include the Paycheck Protection Program, COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and the Unemployment Benefit Programs.”

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