Federal Prosecutors Charge Florida Court With Wrongfully Obtaining COVID-19 Relief Funds
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress authorized unprecedented forms of economic relief to help struggling individuals and businesses stay afloat. Under the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March 2020, eligible small businesses could apply for “forgivable loans” to cover payroll and other authorized expenses. This is known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The U.S. Small Business Administration also maintained a separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to extend low-interest financing to small businesses, homeowners, and even renters who suffered “substantial financial disruption” due to COVID-19.
U.S. Attorney: Defendants Misused PPP, EIDL Funds to Buy a New House and Cars
As with any federal program, there are strict legal penalties for anyone caught trying to abuse the system. In other words, if someone made false statements in order to obtain PPP or EIDL funds, they can be prosecuted for trying to defraud the government. And in recent weeks, federal prosecutors have already initiated several criminal cases.
For example, the acting United States Attorney in Tampa recently announced an indictment against a married couple accused of improperly obtaining a total of 12 PPP and EIDL loans. Specifically, the indictment alleges the defendants “made materially false and fraudulent statements to the SBA in EIDL applications,” such as lying about their business revenues and the number of persons they employed.
Altogether, the U.S. Attorney alleged the defendants received $881,058.35 in wrongfully approved EIDL and PPP loans. The defendants then allegedly used these funds to buy a $200,000 home in North Carolina and two personal vehicles. They also purportedly used some of the money to pay $23,566 in restitution in an unrelated criminal case involving one of the defendants.
The indictment itself includes charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, and illegal monetary transactions. The wire fraud charges alone carry a maximum possible prison sentence of 30 years for each count. (In case you are wondering, “wire fraud” is a catch-all term that involves the use of any means of interstate communication, such as the Internet or the telephone, to commit a fraudulent act.)
It is, of course, important to emphasize that an indictment is simply a statement of allegations against a defendant or multiple defendants. This case has not yet been tried and the constitutional presumption of innocence still applies. At trial, the U.S. Attorney will have to prove each defendant’s guilt on every specified charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Contact Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
Wire fraud may not sound like a big deal compared to violent felonies like murder. Yet prosecutors–especially federal prosecutors–tend to treat these types of offenses with the highest degree of seriousness, especially when government funds are involved. That is why if you are facing possible fraud charges, you need to work with an experienced Orlando white collar crime lawyer who will zealously represent you in court. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team.