Wisconsin Man Pleads Guilty to COVID-Relief Fraud
A Wisconsin man pleaded guilty today for his role in fraudulently obtaining over $600,000 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
According to court documents, Stephen Smith, 42, of Milwaukee, admitted that he fraudulently sought, on behalf of three different companies, over $600,000 in PPP loans through applications to an insured financial institution. According to his plea agreement, Smith caused fraudulent loan applications to be submitted that made numerous false and misleading statements about the companies’ respective payroll expenses. Smith then directed his co-conspirators to send him portions of the PPP funds within days of receiving them and used the proceeds for personal expenses.
Smith pleaded guilty to bank fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 14, and faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Richard G. Frohling of the Eastern District of Wisconsin; Special Agent in Charge Sharon Johnson of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General (SBA-OIG) Central Region; Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Hughes of the FBI’s Milwaukee Field Office; Special Agent in Charge John Crawford of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG); and Acting Special Agent in Charge Tamera D. Cantu of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chicago Field Office made the announcement.
The SBA-OIG, FBI, FDIC-OIG, and IRS-CI are investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Laura Connelly and Leslie S. Garthwaite of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Ingraham of the Eastern District of Wisconsin are prosecuting the case.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding, and in December 2020, Congress authorized another $284 billion in additional funding.
The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%. PPP loan proceeds must be used by businesses for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.
The Fraud Section leads the Justice Department's prosecution of fraud schemes that exploit the CARES Act. In the months since the CARES Act was passed, Fraud Section attorneys have prosecuted more than 100 defendants in more than 70 criminal cases. The Fraud Section has also seized more than $65 million in cash proceeds derived from fraudulently obtained PPP and EIDL funds, as well as numerous real-estate properties and luxury items purchased with such proceeds. More information can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/cares-act-fraud.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Justice Department's National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.