(WSVN) - Billions of dollars were stolen in one of the biggest frauds in U.S. history. Now in exclusive interviews, federal prosecutors take us inside South Florida’s most shocking cases of dollars and deceit. 7’s Karen Hensel investigates.

Dazzling diamond jewelry, stacks of cash, and fast cars. A life of excess, easily accessible.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe: “This was truly like stealing candy from a baby.”

The baby in this case is the American taxpayer.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe: “So it wasn’t surprising to me, but it was still disheartening.”

Markenzy Lapointe is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He leads one of just five strike force teams in the country targeting COVID relief fraud.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe: “People are looking at it right now, when we prosecute these people and they say, ‘Well, you know, this was years ago,’ but you have to put yourself back then.”

Back then, many businesses were forced to close. Congress passed trillions of dollars in pandemic relief and while the government money did help many, it also opened the door for those not eligible to help themselves.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “It should be offensive to the American taxpayers that there were so many of their fellow citizens who saw this as an opportunity for theft, for exploitation, for stealing.”

And an opportunity for spending, lots of spending.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “He spends it on jewelry. He spends it on clothes. He spends it on fancy cars. Andre Lorquet is someone who is almost a caricature of Miami.”

Lorquet stole more than $4 million of COVID cash and used the money to buy this $30,900 diamond watch, a rose gold and diamond pendant with his company’s logo, and a $78,500 gold chain with 70 carats of diamonds.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “Andre Lorquet with this fictitious business got more money than the Miami Children’s Museum.”

Lorquet was sentenced to nearly six years in prison. Real estate broker Daniela Rendon was sentenced to three and a half years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “Like Andre Lorquet, she spent it on frivolities. She rented a Bentley. She paid for an apartment on Biscayne Boulevard overlooking the bay. She paid for dermatology and cosmetic procedures.”

Valesky Barosy submitted fake loan applications for others, in exchange for kickbacks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “We showed the jury Instagram messages that Valesky Barosy had sent to people where he bragged about being able to max out PPP loans.”

The feds say he used the Paycheck Protection Program money to buy luxury watches, designer clothes, and this Lamborghini. David Hines also bought a Lamborghini using government COVID money.

Ironically in 2020, 7News spoke with Hines when he was cited in Miami for failing to wear a mask in public.

July 2020 / David Hines: “I think it’s hilarious.”

In a bit of foreshadowing, Hines talked about the PPP program.

July 2020 / David Hines: “Every single business has gone out of business. The government, the treasury, they gave $2 trillion for PPP loans for small businesses. Eighty-five percent of it went to major corporations.”

Just days after our interview, Hines was arrested for PPP fraud. The feds seized his pricey sports car and he’s now in prison.

Karen: “It’s so Miami.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “Totally. There are a lot of very hardworking, brilliant, successful people in Miami. But there are a lot of people who are faking it every day.”

Karen: “You’re not going away.”

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe: “No, I’m not going away. And the task force is not going away.”

Karen: “Those who have gone away to prison include a CEO, a pastor, and a regional bank manager. But perhaps most surprising are those who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Young: “The number of law enforcement officers who have been wrapped up in this is very significant.”

Karen: “And these are people that you would have thought would have known better?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Young: “That’s right. These are people that should have known better.”

Those who do know, and tell, may be the people the scammers least suspect.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Young: “I think when you see your neighbor, you know, in an expensive car bragging about getting it via a fraudulent COVID loan, I think people are angry.”

Karen: “So it’s been four years now. What about those people who are sitting back going, ‘I got away with it.’ What would you say to them?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Bailyn: “That’s a really good question. No one has gotten away with it. They just haven’t been arrested yet.”

How to report COVID Relief Fraud:

Homeland Security Investigations

FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
Contact your local FBI field office
Submit tips online

DOJ’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline: 866-720-5721 or click here to file an online complaint.

Click here to view the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force 2024 Report.


Copyright 2024 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox