WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said on Thursday that it had charged 57 people with trying to steal more than $175 million from the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic as questions swirled about how its funds were disbursed.
Some cases involved “individuals or small groups, acting on their own, who lied about having legitimate businesses or who claimed that they needed P.P.P. money for things like paying workers or paying bills, but instead used it to buy splashy luxury items for themselves,” Brian C. Rabbitt, the acting head of the department’s criminal division, said at a news conference.
In other cases, coordinated criminal rings stole large sums of money from the loan program, Mr. Rabbitt said. “We will be focusing on these types of cases going forward,” he said.
The federal government offered emergency loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program as