Las Vegas Spree Part of Charges Against IRS Employees Accused of Stealing COVID-19 Funds

Posted on: October 5, 2022, 08:48h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2022, 06:31h.

Five current and former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees are facing — or have already pleaded guilty to — wire fraud and other charges. The pleas stem from their alleged involvement in a scheme that swindled money from federal COVID-19 relief programs.

IRS COVID relief fraud Las Vegas trip
The Department of Justice says five former or current IRS agents allegedly stole money from the CARES Act by filing dishonest coronavirus relief applications with the federal government. Two of the individuals have since admitted to using some of the money to visit Las Vegas. (Image: Shutterstock)

The Department of Justice announced the various charges Tuesday against the five individuals who worked, or continue to work in, the IRS’ offices in Tennessee and Mississippi. Federal prosecutors allege the defendants illegally obtained funds under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program during the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the PPP and EIDL were federal stimulus programs authorized as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The DOJ alleges the five individuals submitted fraudulent loan applications that collectively sought more than $1 million.

The ill-gotten gains were then spent on an array of extravagances, including lavish casino trips to Las Vegas, luxury vehicles, and high-end fashion.

Insider Fraud

US Attorney Kevin Ritz of the DOJ’s Western District of Tennessee explained that the federal government is committed to rooting out bad actors within the agency responsible for collecting taxes and administering the Internal Revenue Code.

These individuals — acting out of pure greed — abused their positions by taking government funds meant for citizens and businesses who desperately needed it,” Ritz said. “Our office will not hesitate to pursue and charge individuals who steal from our nation’s taxpayers.”

Two of the five accused used some of their COVID funds to pay for gambling trips to Las Vegas.

Fatina Hewitt, 35, of Olive Branch, Miss., faced a single count of wire fraud. The DOJ said Hewitt, who was formerly employed by the IRS as an IT management program assistant, applied for $338,900 in EIDL loans and obtained $28,900 in wrongful benefits.

The DOJ said Hewitt used the money to purchase Gucci clothing, accessories, and a trip to Las Vegas. She pleaded guilty on October 4 to the wire fraud charge.

The DOJ said Tina Humes, 56, of Memphis, faced a wire fraud charge for applying for $123,612 in COVID relief money. Humes was issued $123,612 in funds, money she allegedly spent on jewelry and multiple trips to Las Vegas. On July 27, she pleaded guilty to the wire fraud charge.

The DOJ didn’t detail where Hewitt or Humes stayed while in Las Vegas, nor whether the two gambled with any of the dirty money.

Three of the five have now pleaded guilty to wire fraud, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

CARES Act Fraud Investigations

The DOJ says it continues to probe CARES Act fraud by federal employees after Attorney General Merrick Garland established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May 2021.

The Task Force, Garland says, “bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors” involved in illegal pandemic relief.

To date, the DOJ has recovered more than $75 million in fraudulently obtained PPP funds. The feds have also seized real estate and luxury items purchased with such proceeds.