Florida task force prosecuted 67 for fraud related to COVID-19

By Andrew Powell | The Center Square Contributor
Financial or taxes fraud. Business report and magnifying glass.
Financial or taxes fraud. Business report and magnifying glass.Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock.com

(The Center Square) — The Middle District of Florida United States Attorney’s Office has announced the results of an investigation into fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the Middle District U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with federal, state, and local law enforcement, combined resources to form the Middle District of Florida COVID-19 Fraud Task Force to investigate and prosecute cases of fraud that happened during the pandemic.

According to the report, the task force has prosecuted 67 defendants since its inception. This includes a former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office corrections officer charged with wire fraud in April 2023 after allegedly applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan with a nonexistent babysitting business.

A married couple was charged in June 2023 with fraudulently obtaining PPP loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans which came to around $2.14 million. The couple used the money to purchase luxury items such as pontoon boats, real estate in Indiana, jewelry, two dogs, and household furnishings and upgrades.

A Fort Myers man was convicted and sentenced after being found guilty of falsely obtaining PPP loans totaling $2.1 million. The money was funneled into a secret account after the loan was approved, and $700,000 was used to buy a 40-foot pleasure boat, while $55,000 was used to buy a horse. To hide his fraud from auditors, the defendant inflated payroll numbers by adding fictitious employees and family members.

"The Middle District of Florida United States Attorney’s Office continues to pursue, investigate, prosecute, and recover money from those engaged in major or sophisticated fraud schemes designed to steal benefits intended for Americans coping with the myriad impacts of the pandemic." U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg said in a news release.

Of those who have been sentenced, the amount of money that the defendants fraudulently accessed ranged from $10,000 up to more than $10 million. Sentences imposed also varied, with one defendant charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and other offenses while on pretrial release receiving an 11-year term in federal prison.

The report also noted that others yet to be sentenced for bank fraud, racketeering conspiracy, and money laundering could face a maximum prison term of 30 years.

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