The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged 14 people in two separate investigations into their alleged participation in schemes to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of more than $28 million in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.
In Florida, nine defendants have been charged in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of Florida with wire and bank fraud and conspiracy for seeking $24 million in forgivable PPP loans. The defendants include Damion O. Mckenzie, 38, of Miami Gardens, Florida; Andre M. Clark, 46, of Miramar, Florida; Keyaira Bostic, 31, of Pembroke Pines, Florida; Phillip J. Augustin, 51, of Coral Springs, Florida; Wyleia Nashon Williams, 44, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; James R. Stote, 54, of Hollywood, Florida; Ross Charno, 46, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Deon D. Levy, 50, of Bedford, Ohio; and Abdul-Azeem Levy, 22, of Cleveland, Ohio.
“The defendants allegedly participated in an extensive nationwide scheme to file at least 90 fraudulent applications for millions of dollars in PPP loans 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 separate case, five individuals were charged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia with fraudulently obtaining more than $4 million in PPP loans. Investigators allege they used the cash in part, to purchase luxury vehicles, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Authorities seized a Range Rover worth $125,000, jewelry, more than $120,000 in cash and more than $3 million from 10 bank accounts at the time of arrest.
The accused include Darrell Thomas, 34, of Johns Creek, Georgia; Andre Lee Gaines, 66, of Dallas, Georgia; Kahlil Gibran Green Sr., 46, of Cleveland, Ohio; and Bern Benoit, 44, of Burbank, California. They were charged with conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, false statements to a financial institution and money laundering. Additionally, Carla Jackson, 52, of Tucker, Georgia was charged with money laundering.
The indictment alleges that Thomas, Gaines, Green, and Benoit submitted or assisted in the preparation of PPP loan applications on behalf of five businesses.
In Arkansas, a project manager employed by a major retailer has pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges for filing fraudulent bank loan applications seeking more than $8 million in PPP loans.
Benjamin Hayford, 32, of Centerton, Arkansas, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 4.
This week, SocialCatfish.com, the identity verification nonprofit, reported U.S. losses from COVID-19 fraud and ID theft have reached nearly $100 million since the pandemic emerged in March.
In March, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued fraud warnings that schemers will take advantage of market volatility and other aspects of the unique circumstances of COVID-19.