Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans have aided more than 5.2 million small business owners, providing a much-needed lifeline during the Coronavirus outbreak crisis. The overwhelming majority of owners who received PPP loans legitimately used the money to retain employees and stay operational.
But the PPP program attracted a few rotten apples. And you won’t believe how rotten they are. The attempted fraud is staggering: $341,000,000 through January 2021.
PPP Loan Fraud
It’s a wild tale. Millions of dollars of coronavirus relief funds meant to keep employees on the payroll were instead blown on extravagant personal spending sprees — all by a relatively small handful of people. Some of them operated as crime rings. Loot paid for with PPP loan money included two Lamborghini Huracan sports cars, a Rolex Presidential watch, a 5.73-carat diamond ring, a diamond bracelet, two Tesla cars, a 26-foot Pavati Wake Boat, a 33-foot Cruiser yacht, two Rolls-Royces, a Lamborghini Urus luxury SUV, a Kia Stinger, a Ford F-350 pickup truck, at least three Bentleys, and an assortment of other pricey vehicles and boats.
Wads of cash, casino runs and strip club visits also figured in the mix. One defendant was so brazen he allegedly posted a rap video online flashing $100 bills. In another case, a married couple was apprehended at JFK Airport allegedly attempting to flee the country after submitting 18 fraudulent PPP loan applications.
For a quick overview, this infographic tells the story of what happens when PPP loan funds are misused.
Feel free to share this infographic (attribution required) on your own site by copying and pasting the code below:
<p style="text-align:center;"><a href="https://smallbiztrends.com/2020/08/ppp-fraud.html"><img style="border:none;width:100%;" src="<https://media.smallbiztrends.com/2021/02/PPP-fraud-infographic.png>" alt="PPP fraud infographic" /></a></p><p style="font-weight:bold; font-style: italic; text-align:center;">This infographic first appeared in <a href="https://smallbiztrends.com/2020/08/ppp-fraud.html" target="_blank">Small Business Trends</a>.</p>
Fraud or Honest Mistakes?
Could these prosecutions involve nothing more than paperwork mistakes? They do not appear to be honest mistakes. The criminal complaints describe egregious CARES Act abuse, assuming the government ultimately proves the allegations. Many cases involve forged IRS filings — one of the easiest things for the government to check. Which goes to show that most of the defendants aren’t very smart.
The Justice Department is hot on their trail. Through January 2021, the DOJ and United States Attorneys have filed PPP fraud cases charging over 140 defendants with attempting to bilk taxpayers. Luckily, the Feds have recovered a large part of the loan proceeds already, although millions is forever gone.
Government money always attracts a small number of fraudsters, grifters, and criminals. And the DOJ has made it a priority to root them out. On March 16, 2020, Attorney General William Barr directed all 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to prioritize investigating and prosecuting PPP loan cases of fraud.
List of PPP Loan Fraud Cases
Here’s a list of the PPP loan prosecutions to date:
1. Two Men, Identity Theft and a Conspiracy (Rhode Island – May 5, 2020)
- David Staveley, aka Kurt D. Sanborn, and David Butziger were charged with conspiring to seek over $530,000 in PPP money. They allegedly discussed their fraud in email and one assumed the identity of his own brother. It’s alleged they falsely claimed to have dozens of workers at 4 different businesses, including a restaurant neither owned. Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta of the FBI’s Boston Field Office said in a statement, “Thankfully we were able to stop them before taxpayers were defrauded.”
2. Texas Engineer (Texas – May 13)
- Shashank Rai, an engineer from Beaumont, is charged with multiple counts of fraud and false statements to the SBA for seeking more than $10 million in PPP loans. He allegedly claimed to have 250 employees when there is no record of any in his business, Rai Family LLC. Court documents allege that handwritten notes recovered from his trash describe how he planned to use $3 million of it for personal investments.
3. Reality TV Personality (Georgia – May 13)
- “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta” star Maurice Fayne was indicted on fraud charges over a $3,725,500 PPP loan application for his company, Flame Trucking. Fayne allegedly claimed he had 107 workers and submitted forged bank statements. It’s alleged he then blew the money on a Rolex Presidential watch, a 5.73 carat diamond ring and other jewelry. He also allegedly used the money to pay $50,000 for restitution in a previous fraud case, $40,000 in back child support, $139,000 to lease a Rolls Royce Wraith — and $230,000 to associates who helped him run a Ponzi scheme. When arrested, he had almost $80,000 in cash at his home and $9,400 in his pocket, authorities claim.
4. East Texas Man and the Online Name Generator (Texas – May 19)
- Samuel Yates of Maud, Texas is charged with fraudulently applying for $5 million with two different lenders. He claimed to have 400 employees but actually had zero. Authorities claims Yates used a name generator on the Internet to create names of fake staff. He also allegedly submitted forged tax documents.
5. Manhattan Businessman (New York – May 21)
- Muge Ma, a/k/a “Hummer Mars,” a Chinese national residing in Manhattan, was arrested on charges of trying to obtain over $20 million in PPP and EIDL capital. Ma is alleged to have falsely represented to the SBA and five financial institutions that his companies had hundreds of workers when he was the only employee. He also allegedly was involved in a scheme claiming to represent the New York State Government in procuring COVID-19 test kits.
6. Hollywood Film Producer (California – May 22)
- William Sadleir, the ousted head of Aviron Pictures, was charged with wire and bank fraud in connection with a $1.7 million PPP loan. He allegedly used some of the cash to pay off $80,000 in personal credit cards and a $40,000 car loan. Sadleir was Executive Producer on films like Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey. In an unrelated matter the SEC charged Sadleir with allegedly defrauding investors of $13.8 million through Aviron.
7. Lyft Software Engineer (Washington – May 22)
- Baoke Zhang, a software engineer at ride share company Lyft, is charged with wire and bank fraud. He allegedly created fake technology companies to obtain $1.5 million in funds. U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said in a statement, “I am pleased that the systems designed to detect and deny fraudulent payments caught his scheme before federal funds went out the door.”
8. Man on Parole (Virginia – May 29)
- Joseph Cherry II of Virginia was indicted on 10 counts of COVID fraud and faces 10 to 30 years of prison time on each count. Cherry was on supervised release in an unrelated federal case when he applied to the SBA program. It is alleged he got over $190,000 in proceeds and managed to withdraw cash or cashier’s checks for $140,000. “Providing false statements to gain access to SBA’s programs will be aggressively investigated by our office,” said Hannibal Ware, Inspector General of the U.S. Small Business Administration, in a statement.
9. Walmart Project Manager (Oklahoma – June 4)
- Benjamin Hayford is charged with fraud for seeking $4.4 million in PPP financing. He allegedly certified that his business was operating as of February 15, 2020 (a requirement of the law) and had 247 employees, but didn’t even set up a company entity until a few days before applying for the PPP loan. At the time of his arrest Hayford was a Project Manager for Walmart. The retail giant suspended him and stated the charges were unrelated to Walmart. Hayford later pleaded guilty. “Stopping COVID-related fraud is a priority for the Department of Justice. Fraudsters like Benjamin Hayford greedily steal money that should be going to America’s small business owners who are struggling during this public health crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores.
10. Auto Repair Shop Owner (California – June 5)
- Geoffrey M. Palermo of Novato faces charges of wire fraud and making false statements. The former manager of the San Francisco Hilton allegedly embezzled from the hotel in a kickback scheme going back to 2013. After leaving the hotel he opened GMP Cars. In April he allegedly obtained a PPP loan of $1.7 million by falsely certifying that GMP Cars had staff for whom it paid salaries and payroll taxes. But according to the criminal complaint, Palermo used company funds for lavish personal expenses including a Ferrari racing car, leaving the business in financial distress.
11. IT Company Owner (Illinois – June 16)
- Rahul Shah of Evanston is charged with bank fraud and making false statements to a financial institution. He allegedly applied for $441,000 under the Federal Paycheck Protection program. The allegations say he submitted fake IRS documentation. Several individuals he submitted payroll documentation for said they never worked for his company, investigators allege.
12. Austin High Roller (Texas – June 18)
- Michael George McQuarn, 51, of Austin, is charged with with fraudulently receiving over $2 million in SBA loans for two fictitious companies, Vantastic Voyages, LLC and Happy Days Movers, LLC. McQuarn allegedly used the cash for personal use including buying a 26-foot Pavati Wake Boat and a Rolls Royce.
13. IT Services Company Owner (Massachusetts – June 22)
- Elijah Majak Buoi, president of Sosuda Tech LLC, is charged with fraudulently applying for over $13 million in PPP aid. Buoi allegedly misrepresented how many wokers he had and that the United States was their primary residence (required). He ultimately received over $2 million but the government seized $1.98 million from business bank accounts.
14. Wedding Planner (Texas – June 23)
- This owner of a wedding planning company is charged with submitting two PPP applications, and claiming to have 120 employees when he actually had none. Fahad Shah got $1.5 million in funds. He allegedly used the loot to buy a Tesla car, make personal investments and make his home mortgage payments.
15. Married Couple Attempting to Flee (Virginia – June 24)
- The FBI apprehended Monica Jaworska and her husband Tarik Jaafar at JFK Airport allegedly attempting to flee to Poland. The pair are charged with submitting 18 fraudulent Paycheck Protection applications with false payroll tax returns, and receiving $1.4 million. The Feds managed to freeze most of the cash but not before the couple allegedly withdrew $30,000 in cash.
16. Funeral Director (Texas – June 24)
- Jase DePaul Gautreaux aka Jase Dixon, a funeral director in Houston, is charged with seeking $13 million in loans and ultimately receiving over $1.6 million. He is charged with false statements to a financial institution, bank fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. He allegedly submitted applications on behalf of a business that did not exist and for businesses he did not own.
17. Owner of Private Investigation Firm (Ohio – June 24)
- Nadine Consuelo Jackson is charged with bank fraud and other charges for seeking forgivable loans in the amount of $1.3 million, $1.2 million and another $46,000 in Economic Injury Disaster funding. She allegedly claimed to have 73 employees at her Dayton private investigation company. Three people she allegedly claimed as staff told investigators they never heard of her company. The bank recalled one loan and the Government seized funds for the other two.
18. Ophthalmologist Already Under Indictment (New York – June 24)
- Apparently one fraud isn’t enough for some people. Meet Goyal, MD, an ophthalmologist in Rye, New York, was under indictment for healthcare fraud. That didn’t stop him from allegedly applying for two PPP loans using different business names. Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, “Goyal allegedly looted over $630,000 in federal funds earmarked for legitimate small businesses in dire financial straits.”
19. Seattle Doctor (Washington – June 30)
- Dr. Eric R. Shibley is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud. The charges allege he applied several times to get aid totaling $3 million, in the names of businesses with no actual operations. He allegedly lied about his criminal past, and submitted fake tax documents including names of people who did not work for the businesses.
20. Man Under Indictment (Wisconsin – July 8)
- Ahmad Kanan, formerly of Madison, is charged with wire fraud and money laundering. He allegedly applied for two loans totaling $119,560 acting as owner of Altin Labs, Inc. The indictment alleges Kanan was under federal indictment on an unrelated matter at the time. He then allegedly transferred $47,000 to his personal checking account.
21. Trucking Company Owner (Utah – July 8)
- Hubert Ivan Ugarte of Draper, with the assistance of Lisa Bradshaw Rowberry of Provo are charged with fraudulently obtaining a PPP loan of $210,000. He allegedly lied about not being under criminal charges — he in fact was under indictment for a bribery scheme. After two banks declined, Rowberry allegedly said she would help him re-apply through a friend. Ultimately Ugarte received funds from Transportation Alliance Bank. Ugarte allegedly used it for past due truck payments to Kenworth instead of required payroll.
22. Medical Company Owner (Florida – July 10)
- Carlos Belone was charged with wire fraud and other charges in connection with several fraudulent applications. He allegedly got $22,000 which he then deposited partially into a personal account and partially gave to another company in furtherance of a $5.6 million Medicare kickback scheme.
23. Construction Company Owner (Washington D.C. – July 13)
- Oludamilare Olugbuyi was charged with fraudulently obtaining two PPP loans totaling more than $400,000. Allegedly he submitted fake IRS 1099 Forms containing worker social security numbers that were invalid. The allegations claim he submitted a tax return reporting $175,565 income for tax year 2019. However, on April 14, 2020, Olugbuyi allegedly filed a 1040 “non-filer return” reporting $1 in income for 2019 which qualified him to receive a $1,200 economic impact payment.
24. The Cryptocurrency Investor (Texas – July 14)
- Joshua Thomas Argires of Houston was arrested on various fraud charges. Argires allegedly filed two fraudulent PPP applications seeking $1.1 million in forgivable funding. One was on behalf of a company called Texas Barbecue and the other called Houston Landscaping. Argires allegedly invested some of the proceeds in a cryptocurrency account and withdrew cash via ATM transactions.
25. The Vegas High Roller (California – July 16)
- It’s easy to take risks on day trading and gambling when you’re using taxpayer money. Andrew Marnell of Los Angeles is charged with bank fraud. He allegedly used aliases to obtain $8.5 million in aid using fake tax filings and falsified records of payroll costs. He allegedly blew through about $200,000 in Las Vegas casinos, where he was caught on surveillance cameras at a Bellagio blackjack table. Authorities also claim he lost $500,000 on risky stock market trades. Wells Fargo previously fired him for embezzlement, according to news reports.
26. Handmade Entrepreneur (Arkansas – July 16)
- Ganell Tubbs, the entrepreneur owner of Little Piglet Soap Company and Suga Girl Customs, an Etsy shop, is charged with fraudulently obtaining nearly $2 million in PPP loans. Days later she paid $8,000 on her student loan and then went on a spending spree at Sephora and other retailers, it is alleged.
27. Ex-Microsoft Executive (Washington – July 23)
- Mohan Mukand, who used to work for Microsoft and Amazon according to his LinkedIn profile, is charged with submitting 8 PPP applications on behalf of six companies. According to the U.S. Attorneys office, the companies didn’t exist or didn’t have the employees he claimed. Authorities allege he bought a company on the Internet in May with no employees, and then forged documents to claim he had paid millions in payroll taxes in 2019. He allegedly transferred a quarter million dollars of proceeds to his personal brokerage account.
28. High-Living Florida Man (Florida – July 27)
- David T. Hines of Miami is charged with fraudulently seeking $13.5 million in PPP funds using false statements about various companies’ payroll expenses. He was approved for $3.9 million. Days later he allegedly bought a 2020 Lamborghini Huracan sports car for $318,000. He also allegedly squandered cash at luxury retailers and Miami resorts.
29. Miami Chiropractor (Florida – July 29)
- Dennis Nobbe, a chiropractor in Miami, is charged with wire fraud, health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. He allegedly obtained $200,000 in Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loans and used the cash for personal expenses. Allegations also claim he perpetrated a credit card scam on low-income patients by getting them to pay for medical expenses for services he did not fully render.
30. Houston Partier (Texas – August 4)
- Lee Price III is charged with making false statements to a financial institution, wire fraud, bank fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. He allegedly received over $1.6 million. He then went on a luxury buying blitz acquiring a Lamborghini Urus, a Rolex watch, a 2020 Ford F-350 pickup truck, and real estate — according to allegations. He allegedly squandered thousands at strip clubs and nightclubs.
31. Three-State Ring (Georgia, Ohio and California – August 6)
- It’s bad enough when one person tries to defraud taxpayers. But in this PPP fraud case, five individuals from three states are charged with conspiracy to fraudulently get over $4 million and misusing the proceeds. Charged were: Darrell Thomas, Andre Lee Gaines and Carla Jackson of Georgia; Kahlil Gibran Green Sr. of Ohio; and Bern Benoit of California. This alleged PPP fraud ring paid each other for services never rendered to try to hide the money trail. They are accused of using the cash for personal purchases including a Mercedes-Benz S-Class S65AMG and a Land Rover Range Rover. Authorities seized the Range Rover, worth about $125,000, jewelry, $120,000 in cash, and $3 million from 10 bank accounts. Well at least the Feds got that back.
32. 90 PPP Applications in This Fraud Ring (Ohio and Florida – August 6)
- Go big or go home could be the motto here. Phillip J. Augustin of Coral Springs, Florida, is accused of using his talent management agency and connections with professional athletes to engage in an alleged fraud of breathtaking scale, involving 90 PPP loan applications and $17.4 million. Eight other defendants include Damion O. Mckenzie, Andre M. Clark, Keyaira Bostic, Wyleia Nashon Williams, James R. Stote, and Ross Charno, all of Florida. Deon D. Levy and Abdul-Azeem Levy of Ohio also are charged. “The defendants allegedly participated in an extensive nationwide scheme … in exchange for illegal kickbacks of portions of the loan proceeds,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a statement. Court documents identify 3 confidential human sources, i.e., informants.
33. Man Charged with Identity Theft (Florida – August 10)
- Judlex Jean Louis of Lauderhill, Florida, was arrested for aggravated identity theft and other charges for allegedly getting three loans totaling $60,000 using fictional or stolen identities. He allegedly was caught on camera withdrawing cash. Louis was awaiting trial on unrelated charges dating from 2014 – 2015. The U.S. Secret Service and IRS participated in this investigation, along with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
34. Former Catholic Archdiocese Employee (Washington, D.C. – August 11)
- Just when you think you can’t be any more surprised by PPP fraud …. Kenneth Gaughan is charged with obtaining over $2.1 million in PPP and EIDL loans. He allegedly submitted false documentation on behalf of multiple companies purporting to register emotional support animals. He allegedly used those funds to buy a 33-foot Cruisers Yacht for $300,000, a $1.13 million rowhouse, and a $46,000 luxury Kia Stinger. Gaughan is also charged separately with allegedly embezzling $472,000 from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. where he previously worked. Authorities seized the yacht, car, and various bank and investment accounts.
35. Fake Sewing Company Owner Fled Country (Los Angeles – August 11)
- Arman Manukyan, a San Fernando Valley man, is charged with fraudulently obtaining an $867,000 loan for a shell sewing company, Argo Global. He then allegedly transferred the illicit gains to his personal bank accounts. In July, the Feds seized $866,019 from his bank accounts. Also, the seizure warrant revealed multiple California unemployment benefits debit cards. On August 9, Manukyan allegedly boarded a flight from Mexico City to Belarus.
36. Vegas Business Owner (Nevada – August 13)
- Karen Chapon, aka Karen Hannafious, of Las Vegas is charged with allegedly filing six fraudulent loan applications. She allegedly submitted fake IRS form 940 filings (showing employment taxes claimed to be paid) for her company, Heavenly Tahoe Properties. She is alleged to have obtained nearly $600,000. The government issued a seizure warrant for a Mercedes Benz SUV and more than $500,000 from a bank account.
37. Man Out on Charges Buys Harley (Nevada – August 21)
- Kyle William Brenizer of St. Paul is charged with wire fraud and money laundering. He allegedly obtained $841,000 in PPP funds for a defunct contracting company with no employees, called True-Cut. Brenizer was out on other criminal charges at the time, but he allegedly applied under another person’s name. He spent $29,ooo on a Harley Davidson.
37. Man Uses Forgery to Get EIDL and PPP Loans (North Carolina – August 25)
- David Christopher Redfern of Trinity, North Carolina is charged with fraudulently getting EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) and PPP loans totaling $414,000. The charges allege the usual. Fake IRS filings. Forged account statements. Claims of employees who didn’t exist. The Feds froze his bank account and recovered $402,000.
38. Man Gives 23 People “Pandemic Pay”, Buys House (Nevada – August 26)
- Brandon Casutt of Henderson, Nevada, is charged with EIDL and PPP fraud to the tune of $500,000. Part of the scheme allegedly involved a cystic fibrosis foundation he ran, called Skylar CF Foundation. He allegedly laundered funds he received by writing checks for $8,330 each to 23 people. He is alleged to have bought a $400,000 house with taxpayer funds.
39. Miami Wannabe Farmers (Florida – August 26)
- Two Miami neighbors, Latoya Stanley and Johnny Philus, are charged with getting more than $1 million in EIDL and PPP loan amounts. Authorities allege they falsely claimed to be farmers — in the yards of their small homes. The two allegedly worked together on the scheme (mighty neighborly of them!).
40. Defunct Chicago Restaurateur (Illinois – August 28)
- Melissa Turasky, a Chicago restaurateur, was charged with submitting a fraudulent PPP loan application to obtain more than $175,000 in forgivable PPP loans. According to the indictment, Turasky had already been evicted from the restaurant rental space and her employees had been terminated before she applied for the PPP loan.
42. Florida Man Buys 40-foot Catamaran (Florida – September 1)
- Casey David Crowther was charged with receiving more than $2 million in PPP funds. According to Federal authorities, Crowther submitted an application on behalf of his roofing company that contained false and misleading statements. Then he allegedly used $689,000 to buy a luxury catamaran yacht. He has contested the charges.
43. Man Couldn’t Keep His 19 Fraudulent Applications Straight (Michigan – September 1)
- Antonio George of Michigan was charged in a criminal complaint with trying to obtain $3.1 million in PPP loans on behalf of 19 different companies. The complaint alleges George provided false and misleading documents — and apparently couldn’t keep his fake employees straight. The Justice Department alleges that George submitted identical wage information and employee count records for two separate companies, one of which was out of business since 2015.
44. Attorney Buys Million Dollar Home (New Jersey – September 2)
- Jae H. Choi, a licensed attorney in New Jersey, was charged with getting $9 million in PPP funds from three different lenders, based on fabricated employees and forged documents. Authorities allege he used the money to buy a $1 million home and pay for $30,000 in home improvements. Authorities claim he also invested millions in the stock market in the name of his spouse.
45. Woman Achieves Distinction as 50th Defendant Charged with PPP Fraud (Florida – September 3)
- “Distinction” is a loose term for having the Justice Department and Assistant United States Attorney Brian C. Rabbitt call you out as the 5oth prosecution. Tiara Walker was charged with conspiracy and fraud charges involving a crime ring that prepared at least 90 fraudulent applications and attempted to get $24 million, ultimately receiving $17.4 million dollars. Law enforcement assisting in the investigation included the SBA OIG office, the FBI, FDIC and others.
46. Seven Charged in Fraud Ring (South Carolina – September 10)
- Lauren Marcel Duhart, Joshua Bernard Smith, Steve Ronald Lewis, Christopher J. Agard, Henry Duffield, Jeremy Brandon Latourneau, Derick Keane were charged in an indictment with laundering $750,000 obtained fraudulently, including over $390,000 from a PPP loan.
47. Man Flashes $100 Bills in Rap Video (New York – September 10)
- Larry Jordan and Sutukh El, two brothers, are charged with fraudulent PPP loan applications to the tune of $7 million, and actually receiving over $600,000. They allegedly spent some money on personal expenses like vehicles and home improvements. According to U.S. Attorney James Kennedy, “Mr. Sutukh El even posted a rap video holding a large amount of $100 bills after he had made a cash withdrawal, having received this $600,000 plus.” Government officials have seized more than $400,000.
48. NFL Player Blows 62 Grand at the Hard Rock Casino (Florida – September 10)
- NFL player Joshua Bellamy was charged for his alleged role as part of a $24 million COVID-Relief fraud scheme. Authorities state Bellamy allegedly obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $1,246,565 for his own company, Drip Entertainment LLC and then spent the proceeds on purchases at Dior, Gucci, and jewelers as well as withdrawing $302,000 in cash.
49. 22-Year Old Hair Extensions Entrepreneur (Texas – September 15)
- Lola Shalewa Barbara Kasali, 22, of Houston was charged with several counts in which she allegedly received more than $1.9 million for two companies, including Charm Hair Extensions. She deposited the proceeds into four bank accounts, but that didn’t hide it from authorities who seized her ill-gotten gains.
50. An 18-Room Tuscan Mansion on the Taxpayer Dime (New York – September 17)
- Jean R. Lavanture of Saugerties was arrested for bank fraud for allegedly obtaining $5 million in government-backed loans for companies that had neither employees nor income in recent years. Lavanture allegedly went on a spending spree and bought a motel and also a 8.54-acre estate with a Tuscan style mansion on it.
51. Claimed to Have Paid 100 Employees (Florida – September 17)
- Uzoamaka Leonard Ohaebosim was charged for allegedly falsifying payroll documents to obtain $1.2 million for his movie company, “Spite the Movie.” Law enforcement recovered all the proceeds. Agents from the FDIC OIG, SBA OIG and IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI) investigated.
52. Ex-Felon Charged With PPP Loan Fraud (Rhode Island – September 22)
- Michael C. Moller was charged with fraudulently seeking $4.7 million in PPP forgivable loans that he applied for in the name of various people including his father, girlfriend’s brother and girlfriend’s son. Moller received close to $600K in stimulus PPP loans. The complaint also states he was convicted of four counts of bank robbery and fraud previously.
53. Game of Thrones Inspired These Fake Company Names (North Carolina – September 29)
- Tristan Bishop Pan was charged for allegedly seeking $6 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans. The complaint states he applied on behalf of fake companies with names like White Walker, Khaleesi, and The Night’s Watch. If you don’t know, those are characters from the Game of Thrones TV series.
54. Prominent CEO of Hawaii Government Contractor (Hawaii -September 30)
- Martin Kao, the CEO of Navatek LLC (now known as Martin Defense Group LLC), was charged in a federal complaint with fraudulently obtaining $12.8 million in CARES Act loans. Kao allegedly transferred $2 million to personal accounts.
55. Man Uses Aliases to Seek $22 Million (California – October 2)
- Attila Colar allegedly used several aliases in a scheme to illegally get $22 million from the PPP. The complaint alleges he ultimately received a loan for over $1 million.
56. Recording Artist Buys Ferrari with PPP Money (Florida – October 6)
- Diamond Blue Smith, a recording artist, is charged with being part of the nationwide $24 million scam ring mentioned above. The complaint alleges Smith bought a $96K Ferrari and other luxury items and withdrew $271,805 in loan proceeds. Tonye Johnson was also charged with getting a PPP loan of $389,627and paying a portion of the loan proceeds to his co-conspirators.
57. A Bentley Convertible and a Jaw Dropping Scheme (Texas – October 9)
- Dinesh Sah of Dallas was indicted on charges he filed 15 fraudulent loan applications to 8 lenders in the total amount of $24.8 million. He allegedly received $17.3 million and spent the money on a Bentley convertible as well as sending millions of dollars abroad. The government was able to seize $6.5 million.
58. A Cessna Aircraft and a Lexus (Virginia – October 20)
- Didier Kindambu is facing charges that he falsified payroll documentation to $2.5 million. Kindambu made some expensive personal purchases that authorities say were not permissable under the loan terms, including the plane the Lexus.
59. Five Charged in Connection With PPP Loans Scheme (Wisconsin/Illinois – October 22)
- Thomas Smith, Stephen Smith, Samuel Davis Jr., Robert Hamilton, and Jonathan Henley were indicted for an alleged scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $1.1 million in PPP loans. They allegedly filed fake tax documents to support the loan applications.
60. A $106K Mercedes and a Ford F-250 (Florida – October 23)
- Keith William Nicoletta was charged with seeking more than $1.9 million in a Paycheck Protection Program loan to pay employees of a scrap metal business when, in fact, he had paid no payroll taxes for employees. Authorities say he went on a personal spending spree with taxpayer money. He allegedly bought a 2020 Mercedes and a special edition Ford F-250 pickup truck, and wired $537,000 to a property management company in south Florida.
61. Nine EIDL and PPP Loan Applications (Washington – October 27)
- Austin Hsu of Issaquah, WA was charged with wire fraud in connection with fraudulently seeking over $1.1 million. Allegedly Hsu applied in the names of current and former employees, and incorporated a fake company also.
62. Transferred $335k to Personal Accounts (California -October 29)
- Steven R. Goldstein and his business partner, Raymond Magana are charged with applying for $2.5 million in loans and actually receiving over $1.95 million. Goldstein allegedly transferred $355,000 in his personal bank account.
63. Applied for PPP Loan While out on Bail (Tennessee – November 9)
- Princess Terry of Memphis is alleged to have filed and fraudulently obtained $290K in PPP loan funds while on pre-trial release in an unrelated healthcare fraud case. Terry was sentenced to 65 months in federal prison for other cases.
64. Chain Pizza Owner Charged With PPP Fraud (Michigan – November 12)
- Michael Bischoff, the CEO and co-founder of a Michigan chain called Passport Pizza, allegedly falsified documents and employees to obtain $931,000 in PPP money. He received $593,590.
65. Local Basketball Coach Indicted (Florida – November 13)
- Terrence Deshun Williams, named one of Florida’s high school basketball coaches of the year, was charged with fraudulently obtaining $984,710 in PPP loan money for a consulting business. When Williams received the funds, he allegedly tried to launder the money by transferring it to different accounts.
66. A Swimming Pool and Money Abroad (Minnesota – November 16)
- Aditya Raj Sharma, the founder and former CEO of Crosscode Inc., a cloud-based software development company, was charged with misrepresenting facts to get a PPP loan. He had been removed by the Board of Directors from his company in 2019, yet submitted an application in the name of “Crosscode dba Kloudgaze.” He received over half a million dollars in PPP funds, and allegedly put a down payment on a pool and transferred money to a financial account in India.
67. A Porsche and Lamborghini (Texas – November 17)
- Amir Aqeel, Siddiq Azeemuddin, Rifat Bajwa, Pardeep Basra, Mayer Misak, Maurico Navia, and Richard Reuth allegedly participated together in filing more than 80 fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program applications for $16 million. Federal authorities claim they used some of the coronavirus pandemic funds to buy luxury automobiles.
68. Made Down Payments on Million Dollar Homes (California – November 18)
- Richard Ayvazyan, Marietta Terabelian, Artur Ayvazyan, Tamara Dadyan were charged in a complaint claiming they conspired together as part of a disaster relief loan fraud ring based in Los Angeles. The defendants are charged with using fake and stolen identifies to apply for 35 CARES Act loans. They allegedly used the proceeds to make down payments on personal homes.
69. Diverted Funds to Relatives and Minor Children (New Jersey – November 19)
- Rocco A. Malanga, owner of a New Jersey small business, was charged with wire fraud and bank fraud for falsifying records to obtain $1.8 million in PPP loans. Authorities say he put the PPP loan proceeds in accounts under the control of his relatives and minor children.
70. Owners of Chain of Nail Salons (New York – December 10)
- Ngoc Manh Nguyen, Victoria Dieuy Ho, and Dat Tat Ho were charged for allegedly having misrepresented employee payroll figures to receive $13 million in COVID-19 loan funds. FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr said: “The benefits offered by the CARES Act for PPP loans were established to help small businesses survive during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the owners of Victoria Nails & Spa saw this program as their own personal piggy bank.”
71. Man Sends Money to Pakistan and Books Flight (New Jersey – December 15)
- Azhar Sarwar Rana, 30, of Newton, New Jersey, was charged for submitting a fraudulent application for a real estate development company, and falsified payroll data. He got $5.6 million and sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pakistan accounts, and paid for luxury items. He was arrested after he booked a same-day flight to Pakistan.
72. Keeping it All in the Family (Arkansas – December 16)
- Melvin Stout, his wife Tiffany Acuff and sister Valerie Watson pleaded guilty to making a false statement and obtaining loans through Paycheck Protection Program. Although the amount of the loans, $9,400 and $20,800, are not as large as some on the list, United States government agencies are not giving them any slack.
73. Purchased a Luxury Mercedes E400 (Arizona – December 17)
- Celestine Coletta Strong, Jawuan Polk, Patrick Earl Lewis, and Ty’zhaun Marqui Lewis were charged in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain PPP funds. The complaint states they received PPP loans of $450,000 and some of the proceeds were allegedly used to purchase a Mercedes E400.
74. Restaurant Owner and Son Charged ( North Carolina – December 17)
- Izzat and Tarik Freitekh, a father-son duo, were charged with lying and forging IRS records to obtain $1.7 million in PPP funds for three different businesses. Authorities revealed they recovered $1.3 million of the PPP funds.
75. Two-Man Fraud Ring for PPP Loans (Oklahoma – December 18)
- Rafael Maturino and Winston James were charged separately but allegedly worked together to carry out their scheme. The pair allegedly received $97,800 and $125,900 respectively.
76. A 2020 Bentley Continental and Cadillac Escalade (New York – December 21)
- Leon Miles was charged with obtaining funds intended for businesses harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Miles allegedly used the gains to purchase a Bentley and Cadillac, and withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars.
77. Nurse Charged for Defrauding COVID-19 Relief Programs (Florida – January 8, 2021)
- Giraldo Caraballo allegedly falsely applied for and received around $420,000 in PPP funds. The criminal complaint goes on to say Caraballo also received $55,000 in Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) relief.
78. Las Vegas Man Hits 7 Different Lenders (Nevada – January 28, 2021)
- Jorge Abramovs was charged in an indictment with bank fraud, making false statements to a bank, and money laundering. Abramovs allegedly got nearly $2 million from seven lenders. He then went on a buying extravaganza, spending on a Tesla, a Bentley, two condominiums, and paying his home mortgage. The case was investigated by the FBI and SBA-OIG.
79. Georgia and South Carolina Fraud Ring with 11 People (Georgia, January 28, 2021)
- Six people were charged by indictment in this fraud ring spanning two states. Rodericque Thompson allegedly recruited Micah Baisden, Travis Crosby, Keith Maloney, Tabronx Smith, and Thomas Wilson to apply for PPP loans on behalf of their respective businesses, per law enforcement. But they apparently weren’t creative enough, as they submitted nearly identical applications each with 16 employees, and used identical fraudulent quarterly tax returns. Five others pleaded guilty in this $3,000,000 ring: Antonio D. Hosey, Timothy Williams, Stanley Dorceus, Kenneth L. Wright, Jr., and Mark A. Stewart.
Investigations by the DOJ and U.S. Attorneys, including the Fraud Section, have resulted in a variety of charges, including wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343) and making false statements to the SBA and FDIC-insured banks (18 U.S.C. § 1014). Depending on the charges, penalties could include up to $1 million in fines and up to 30 years in prison, legal experts say.
Some of the law enforcement agencies involved in investigating are: The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Office of Inspector General; Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General (SBA-OIG); Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), and the FBI.
But of course, the government has to prove the allegations. Justice Department lawyers remind everyone that, “A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”
More Prosecutions on the Horizon
Have we seen the last of PPP fraud prosecutions? No. The above numbers are through January 2021, and new instances are being announced regularly. We have a new Administration in Washington, but government officials in the Justice Department have not signaled a change in enforcement policy.
But keep it all in perspective. Fewer than 150 defendants out of of over 5.2 million loans is a minuscule percentage. The overwhelming majority of small businesses have no allegations of Paycheck Protection Program fraud. Most of the funds are going to help the nation’s 31 million small businesses.
A small number of fraudulent cases was inevitable given the amazing speed with which the Paycheck Protection Program came into being. On March 27, 2020, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorizing the low-interest, forgivable loans. In another unusual burst of government speed, the Small Business Administration and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin started accepting loan applications just a week later on April 3, 2020.
With that kind of speed, no program could be perfect. However, the alternative of waiting would not have served the country well. Legitimate small businesses and self-employed individuals needed speed. The government wisely decided to move fast and let the justice system track down any miscreants.
A second PPP2 program was authorized by Congress for $275 billion. PPP2 started accepting applications on January 11, 2021. Also, the EIDL loan application date has been extended through 2021.
On average, companies that received a PPP loan got $101,000 according to SBA data. In fact, the majority (68%) of the loans were under $50,000, which sounds right for most small businesses which tend to be pretty small, and the self-employed.
Still, a June 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office found, “there is a significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin then announced that the Treasury Department would review every loan over $2 million. However, the Government watchdog also recommended oversight of the 4 million smaller loans. The GAO also recommended auditing COVID-19 unemployment benefits paid to workers rehired through PPP loans.
Another report by the SBA OIG found tens of thousands of examples of companies that received PPP loans ineligibly. In addition to fraud, this could have been for a variety of reasons, including companies that owe money to the government and are in a federal “Do Not Pay” database, or companies that received more than they should have.
Yet to Come: The PPP Forgiveness Process
The loan program forgiveness process is bound to trigger another round of scrutiny. Millions of Americans eventually will apply for forgiveness.
In order to get Paycheck Protection loans forgiven and not have to repay the loan, small business owners have to show proof that at least 60% was used for payroll and the rest for other permitted expenses. A requirement of forgiveness is that borrowers must rehire or retain workers — and maintain salary levels.
DOJ prosecutors may also pursue civil penalties, not just criminal prosecutions, particularly around loan forgiveness. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ethan P. Davis noted in a June 26th speech: “When the borrower is ready to seek forgiveness of the loan, it has to certify that the funds were in fact used to pay costs that are eligible for forgiveness. If an applicant knowingly answers any of these questions falsely, it may face False Claims Act liability.”
This means you have to be just as scrupulous when applying for forgiveness as when you applied for the loan initially. The False Claims Act can impose steep financial penalties, including treble damages.
If the PPP debt is not forgiven, the interest rate is very low — 1%. Businesses that have to repay the loan get 2 years to repay if funding was issued before June 5. If you got funding after June 5, you have five years to repay. The PPP promissory note you signed will have the terms applicable to you. See the SBA website for updated forgiveness information.
Should Business Owners Be Worried?
It’s a scary thing for legitimate business owners to sign borrower certifications under potential penalties of fines and prison time. The SBA programs are complex and it is easy to trip up innocently.
This has caused some entrepreneurs, employers and owners to think twice about applying. No one under pressure of this pandemic wants to fumble on a technicality while legitimately trying to pay employees and keep their life’s work afloat. One local businesswoman told me she prayed for two weeks before applying because of her fears over confusing requirements.
Justice Department representatives say honest owners acting in good faith shouldn’t worry. Stephen J. Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, wrote in an op-ed in Texas Lawyer:
“Rest assured that we will be careful not to discourage legitimate businesses from accessing the important financial resources that Congress made available through the CARES Act. We will not punish companies that accessed stimulus funds in good faith compliance with the rules. Nor, will we seek out applicants who made technical mistakes in processing paperwork or honestly misunderstood regulatory or certification requirements. Our focus is on fraud.”
Let’s hope the entire government is on the same page as Mr. Cox.
This article is updated regularly. It is not intended as legal advice. It’s intended to offer news and peer perspective on an important issue that affects us as business owners. Check with your attorney and/or accountant with questions.
Case data source and image source: Justice.gov
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