Minnesota’s chief legal officers have formed a joint “COVID-19 action team” to enforce Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency executive orders.
U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a Monday press release that the new “action team” is a “coordinated statewide effort focused on investigating and prosecuting unlawful activity associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and enforcing all state and federal laws and executive orders to put an end to it.”
They said the goal of the Minnesota COVID-19 Action Team, which they’re calling the MCAT for short, is to “protect the citizens of Minnesota from any wrongdoing related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ellison and MacDonald urged the public to report any COVID-19-related criminal behavior, scams, cybercrimes, hate crimes, or “other unlawful activity” to the Attorney General’s Office.
“Together, we are living through an extremely challenging and unprecedented time. Unfortunately, there are bad actors who seek to exploit these challenges by preying on vulnerable individuals for a quick financial profit, launching a myriad of insidious cyber scams, or carrying out bias-motivated acts of violence. This type of criminal activity is reprehensible and will not go unpunished,” MacDonald said in a statement.
She said the MCAT will serve as a “clearinghouse” for any reports or complaints the public submits to “any federal, state, or local agency.” Additionally, the MCAT will provide for a “swift and coordinated law enforcement response” and facilitate “the sharing of information about COVID-19 related unlawful conduct occurring anywhere in Minnesota,” she said.
“Now is the time for Minnesotans to turn toward each other, not against each other. The vast majority of people and businesses are doing that: they’re doing right by each other, their customers, and communities, and we thank them,” Ellison said.
“But for those who aren’t – for those who are profiteering off the pandemic or using it as a pretext to attack other people – we’re not standing for it. We’re pooling all our resources to come after them and to help all other Minnesotans afford their lives and live with dignity and respect,” he continued.
Ellison’s office has already sued multiple landlords who pressured tenants to vacate during the pandemic, The Minnesota Sun reported. He also said his office has received hundreds of complaints about price gouging throughout the state and ordered several businesses to comply with an executive ban on price gouging during Minnesota’s peacetime emergency.
Gov. Walz has issued 35 executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic since March 13 and extended the state’s peacetime emergency for another 30 days on Monday.
According to a Tuesday report from The Star Tribune, at least 23 Minnesotans are now facing charges for violating the governor’s stay-at-home order. A violation of the order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
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