COVID-19 fraudster used stolen relief aid to purchase a private island in Florida
A freshwater spring bubbles amid the mangroves, cabbage palms and red cedars on Sweetheart Island, a two-acre uninhabited patch of paradise about a mile off the coast of this little Gulf Coast town.
Pelicans divebomb nearby into the cool waters of Florida’s Withlacoochee Bay and the open view westward holds the promise of dazzling sunsets.
It may have seemed like an ideal getaway for Florida businessman Patrick Parker Walsh. Instead, he’s serving five and half years in federal prison for stealing nearly $8 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds that he used, in part, to buy Sweetheart Island.
While Walsh’s private island ranks among the more unusual purchases by pandemic fraudsters, his crime was not unique. He is one of thousands of thieves who perpetrated the greatest grift in U.S. history. They potentially plundered more than $280 billion in federal COVID-19 aid; another $123 billion was wasted or misspent.
The loss represents close to 10% of the $4.3 trillion the U.S. government has disbursed to mitigate the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.