Spokane Resident Pleads Guilty to Fraudulently Obtaining More than $360,000 in COVID- 19 Relief Funding
Richland, Washington – Today, Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that a grand jury returned an Indictment charging Hanford Site Subcontractor BNL Technical Services, LLC (BNL) and its owner, Wilson Pershing Stevenson III, age 44, of Nashville, Tennessee, with eleven counts of fraudulently obtaining more than $1.4 million in COVID-19 relief funding intended for struggling businesses. The charges in the Indictment are the most recent announced by the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force, which was created in 2022 to combat fraud against COVID-19 relief programs in Eastern Washington.
On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The CARES Act provided a number of programs through which eligible small businesses could request and obtain relief funding intended to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic for small and local businesses. One such program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided government-backed loans to small businesses which could be forgiven so long as the proceeds were used for payroll and other eligible expenses. Another program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, provided low interest loans that could be deferred until the conclusion of the pandemic to provide “bridge” funding for small businesses to maintain their operations during shutdowns and other economic circumstances caused by the pandemic. The PPP and EIDL programs have provided billions of dollars in aid, the vast majority of which have not been paid back, including hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed within Eastern Washington.
“COVID-19 relief programs quickly ran out of money due to the number of people and businesses that requested funding, which meant that some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “We created the COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force because it is critical to the strength and safety of our community in Eastern Washington that we all work together to combat pandemic-related fraud. The Strike Force is one way to ensure that limited resources are provided to deserving local businesses that provide vital services for our communities.”
In February 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office began working with federal law enforcement agencies to create and launch a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force that would leverage partnerships between different agencies to aggressively investigate and prosecute fraud against COVID-19 relief programs in Eastern Washington. The Strike Force consists of agency representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs OIG, Department of Homeland Security OIG, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, General Services Administration OIG, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Energy OIG, and others. Cases investigated and prosecuted by the Strike Force have resulted in numerous indictments, convictions, and civil penalties, and have returned millions of dollars in fraudulently-obtained funds to the public.
Between 2020 and 2021, BNL provided contract labor services to Hanford Site prime contractors. As alleged in the Indictment, BNL’s labor costs and payroll continued to be paid by DOE throughout the pandemic, including when BNL employees were not able to physically work at the site and instead were teleworking or simply home in “ready” status. The Indictment alleges that Stevenson III, on behalf of BNL, nonetheless fraudulently sought and obtained more than $1.3 million in PPP funding for these employees despite their pay and benefits already being covered by DOE contract funds and other federal sources. The Indictment further alleges that Stevenson III transferred nearly all of the fraudulently-obtained CARES Act funding to himself and his family, including to a family trust, to pay off personal debts, and to personal accounts for himself and his wife. The Indictment alleges that Stevenson III then fraudulently and improperly sought and obtained forgiveness for more than $1.3 million in PPP funds by falsely representing that they had been used for payroll and other eligible business expenses.
The fraud charges carry maximum sentences of up to 30 years in federal prison.
This case was investigated by the Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, Richland Field Office, the Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General, and the Strike Force. Assistant United States Attorneys Tyler H.L. Tornabene and Dan Fruchter are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
United States v. Wilson Pershing Stevenson III et al., Case No: 4:23-cr-06014-MKD
Assistant United States Attorney and Public Affairs Officer
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