COVID-19 Fraudster Purchases Private Island With Relief Funds

Florida businessman Patrick Parker Walsh is serving five and a half years in federal prison for stealing nearly $8 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds. A portion of these funds were used to purchase Sweetheart Island — a two-acre uninhabited property about a mile off the coast of a Gulf Coast town.

Walsh’s case is emblematic of a larger trend, where thousands of individuals perpetrated what has been termed the largest grift in U.S. history, potentially siphoning over $280 billion from federal COVID-19 aid. An additional $200 billion intended for relief efforts was also discovered to be wasted or misspent.

According to reports, this loss represents close to 10% of the $4.3 trillion disbursed by the U.S. government to alleviate the economic devastation wrought by the mandated lockdowns. These reviews of pandemic fraud cases showcase criminals spending lavishly on houses, luxury watches, diamond jewelry, Lamborghini, and other expensive items.

Stolen aid also funded nights at strip clubs, gambling sprees in Las Vegas, and extravagant vacations. Walsh’s case and others emphasize just how easily funds were misused. Approximately 3,200 defendants have been charged with COVID-19 relief fraud, with about $1.4 billion in stolen pandemic aid seized.

However, the sheer scale of the fraud poses a significant challenge for investigators, with digital evidence often being time-sensitive. In response, top Justice Department officials claim to remain undeterred, establishing special “strike forces” dedicated to hunting down COVID-19 aid thieves.

Among those charged is Konstantinos Zarkadas, a New York doctor who falsified at least 11 separate applications for pandemic aid, netting almost $3.8 million. His extravagant spending included Rolex and Cartier wristwatches valued at $140,000 and a hefty down payment on a yacht.

Similarly, Lee E. Price III of Houston swindled nearly $1.7 million by submitting bogus aid applications for nonexistent businesses. Price indulged in a luxurious lifestyle, purchasing a Rolex and a flashy white Lamborghini Urus among other expenditures.

Vinath Oudomsine of Georgia created a fake company and received $85,000 in pandemic aid, which he spent on a 1999 Charizard Pokémon card worth nearly $58,000. Patrick Walsh’s bid to save his aerial advertising businesses following a blimp crash at the U.S. Open golf tournament turned out to be nothing more than a lie.

Between March 2020 and January 2021, Walsh submitted over 30 fraudulent applications for emergency pandemic aid, receiving $7.8 million. As part of his plea deal, Walsh agreed to return the stolen $7.8 million and sell Sweetheart Island, which was among his first purchases with the illicit funds. Records show the island was recently sold for $200,000 at the end of June 2023.