Three years imprisonment in federal prison, three years of supervision release and $85,000 in restitution were all the sentences given Monday to a Georgia man. His crime: using COVID-19 relief funds to buy a collectible Pokémon card.
This wasn’t the end of it. Any Pokémon card; it was a “Charizard,” which is apparently quite the find—valued at $57,789.
Vinath Oudomsine, a July 2020 resident of India applied for COVID-19 funds through the Small Business Administration (SBA). He claimed that the $85,000 would allow him to expand his entertainment company which was hit so hard by the pandemic. It went instead to Charizard.
Philip Wislar of FBI Atlanta stated in a statement that COVID-19 Disaster Relief Loans are given by the government in order to aid businesses who need to survive in an epidemic. These loans cannot be used to purchase trivial or collectible items. This sentence highlights FBI’s determination to pursue those who abuse taxpayer funds and divert it from the citizens most in need.
This seems a lot when you consider the success rate for similar relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. That program was much more likely to legalize the wealth of shareholders and business owners rather than actually helping workers. The COVID-related stimulus checks were issued in 2020. To the decedents, $1.4 Billion was paid by the federal government.
It doesn’t mean that this is all. Oudomsine was not completely immoral or plainly stupid. However, a three year federal jail sentence (where there’s no parole), is outrageous, considering Oudomsine has already forfeited his card to law enforcement. In addition to the fact that Oudomsine was unable to trust the federal government to act as an adequate steward of those funds, the federal government is also not trusted with being able to provide the necessary restitution and penalties.
Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums explains that this was a foolish act and he should be punished. However, three years is a long time in prison. There are reasons. One year is too long. That is something that people don’t understand. This sentence is for three years, after which you must pay restitution and get a penalty. It only makes sense in a country like ours where we use prison so frequently, where that is the default punishment… It only makes sense because we’re addicted to it.”
Biden, the President, promised that he would become a criminal reformer. That he would roll back mass prisoner abuse and be less harsh than if he had been in Congress. Yet in his State of the Union address last week—which made no mention of criminal justice reform—Biden noted that he would be going HardFollowing pandemic fraud. Kevin Chambers was already appointed chief prosecutor in these cases. He says that he will pursue them with zeal. It serves as a stark reminder that political expediency is the driving force behind much of party-line discussion about criminal justice reform.