Methuen Man Pleads Guilty to Disaster Fund Fraud Scheme
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
BOSTON – A Methuen man pleaded guilty on May 18, 2023 in federal court in Boston to using stolen identities to fraudulently obtain Economic Injury Disaster Loan funds from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and to launder the funds.
Ramon Joseph Cruz, Jr., 27, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and four counts of wire fraud and aiding and abetting. U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns scheduled sentencing for Aug. 20, 2023. Cruz was arrested and charged by criminal complaint in December 2020 along with alleged co-conspirator Darwyn Joseph. The defendants were subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2021.
According to the charging documents, the defendants were involved in a conspiracy to use stolen identity information of United States citizens to apply for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Specifically, Cruz and, allegedly, Joseph used stolen identity information of U.S. citizens to open fraudulent bank accounts which were then linked to other fraudulent bank accounts set up to receive the SBA funds. Cruz and, allegedly, Joseph also received some of the debit cards associated with fraudulent bank accounts into which SBA funds were deposited, and then laundered those funds by using them to purchase large numbers of iPhones for re-sale. Cruz and, allegedly, Joseph also wired a portion of the funds to the Dominican Republic in furtherance of the scheme.
Over $452,000 in SBA funds were fraudulently obtained in connection with this scheme. Approximately $250,000 of this money was used allegedly to purchase iPhones in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy and Michael J. Krol, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New England made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elianna Nuzum and Adam Deitch of Levy’s Criminal Division are prosecuting the case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The remaining defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Updated May 24, 2023