News Tip

NJ Woman Arrested in $700k Government Relief Fraud

Damaris Valerio, 41, faces charges for allegedly misappropriating nearly $700,000 in government pandemic aid, highlighting a case of significant fraud in Middlesex County.

Damaris Valerio, a 41-year-old woman from Perth Amboy, Middlesex County, New Jersey, has been arrested for allegedly obtaining over $694,000 through fraudulent means from COVID-19 emergency relief funds, including Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds.

NEWARK, NJ - U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced the arrest of Damaris Valerio on charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The arrest, which occurred prior to her Nov. 15 appearance in Newark federal court, highlights a significant case of fraud involving funds designated for pandemic relief.

Between April 2020 and December 2021, Valerio is accused of fraudulently obtaining $694,212 in relief funds meant for small businesses and unemployed workers struggling during the pandemic. The complaint alleges that Valerio submitted false applications, exaggerating her business' revenue, payroll expenses, and employee count. Subsequently, she is charged with diverting these funds for personal use.

The severity of the charges is underscored by the potential penalties: up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud and a maximum of 10 years for money laundering, along with hefty fines.

The case reflects the broader efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice's COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force, which aims to prosecute large-scale, multi-state fraud cases related to pandemic relief funds. This interagency effort, led by prosecutor-led teams and data analysts, is a response to the widespread misuse of funds intended for pandemic aid.

This arrest in Middlesex County serves as a stark reminder of the vigilant oversight required in the distribution and use of emergency funds. While the allegations in the complaint are not yet proven, they bring to light the challenges in ensuring that critical aid reaches its intended recipients during times of crisis.

The investigation, led by various federal agencies, demonstrates the collaborative effort to combat fraud and uphold the integrity of government aid programs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fatime Meka Cano of the Economic Crimes Unit in Newark represents the government in this case.

As the legal proceedings continue, the community is reminded that all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. For those with information about potential COVID-19 relief fraud, the Department of Justice encourages reporting through their National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline or online complaint form.

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