Georgia federal prosecutors have accused five individuals with attempting to steal $4.1 million from a government COVID-19 program designed to provide relief to small business owners.
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The indictment charges Darrell Thomas, 34, Andre Lee Gaines, 66, Khalil Gibran Green, 46, and Bern Benoit, 44, with fraud in connection with the alleged rip-off.
A fifth person, Carla Jackson, 52, was charged with money laundering.
The indictment was announced Thursday by Atlanta U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.
“The PPP was enacted to provide emergency financial assistance to business owners who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “The defendants allegedly took advantage of this critical financial assistance to fraudulently obtain funds that other small businesses desperately needed to keep their employees on the payroll."
Prosecutors said as part of the scheme Thomas, Gaines, Green and Benoit submitted PPP applications seeking loans of $800,000 apiece for five businesses. The Small Business Administration oversees the program.
Pak said with the exception of one company’s reporting for one quarter, the five businesses reported an identical number of employees and an identical amount of payroll expenses for each quarter of 2019.
He said in reality none of the businesses filed an IRS Form 941 for any quarter in 2019 or for the first quarter of 2020. He also said four of the businesses also submitted with their applications fake bank statements that significantly inflated the funds in the businesses’ bank accounts.
Thomas was accused of using some of the funds to purchase two luxury vehicles for more than $125,000 each: a Mercedes-Benz S-Class S65AMG and a Land Rover Range Rover.
Pak said federal agents seized the Range Rover during the investigation. They also recovered $3.1 million dollars in PPP proceeds from 10 bank accounts.