Used CARES Act Loan Proceeds to Purchase a Mercedes-Benz and to Lease and Fully Furnish a Luxury Apartment in Downtown Baltimore
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Lawrence A. Walker, age 64, of Baltimore, Maryland, today to 24 months in federal prison, followed by 6 months of home confinement, and 3 years of supervised release, for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and fraudulently obtaining more than $262,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), intended to provide financial assistance to small businesses under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. Judge Bennett also ordered that Walker must forfeit the cash seized during the search, a Mercedes-Benz, and pay a money judgment and restitution of $232,152.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Chief Robert McCullough of the Baltimore County Police Department.
According to the plea agreement, from March 2021 through December 2021, Walker and a co-conspirator engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain a PPP loan for Walker’s business, Nutscola Street Promotions, LLC (“Nutscola”). Walker was the owner and resident agent, but Nutscola had no employees at the time and was not in operation.
As detailed in the plea agreement, on March 21, 2021, Walker and his co-conspirator submitted a PPP loan application that contained multiple misrepresentations, including that Nutscola had 13 employees and an average monthly payroll of $104,900.87. Walker and his co-conspirator fabricated a tax form and a February 2020 bank statement purportedly from Nutscola’s business account which were submitted in support of the loan application. Walker opened the Nutscola bank account on March 6, 2021, as part of the fraud scheme.
Based on the false representations and fraudulent documentation, the PPP loan was funded and approximately $262,252 in loan proceeds was distributed to the Nutscola bank account. After receiving the loan proceeds, Walker provided his co-conspirator with a kickback for his work in obtaining the loan—two checks totaling $78,000, which was approximately 30 percent of the loan amount.
Walker and his co-conspirator knew that, under the PPP rules, interest and principal on a PPP loan were eligible for forgiveness, if the business spent the loan proceeds on permissible items within a designated period of time and used a certain portion of the loan toward payroll expenses. To make it appear that the PPP loan funds were being used for legitimate purposes, on March 30, 2021, Walker signed an agreement with a payroll processor to provide payments using the PPP funds to purported employees of Nutscola, including Walker, his brother, and various other friends and associates. Use of the payroll services also created documentation that could be used to substantiate a request for the PPP loan to be forgiven.
According to the plea agreement, a total of $159,000 in sham payroll payments were made using funds traceable to the PPP loan obtained by Walker and Nutscola. None of the purported employees were actually employed by Nutscola and several of the purported employees provided the funds directly back to Walker. Walker used the loan proceeds to purchase a Mercedes-Benz automobile valued at more than $76,000 and to lease and fully furnish a luxury apartment in downtown Baltimore that overlooked Camden Yards baseball stadium. Neither use of the funds was permissible under PPP rules.
On December 31, 2021, Walker’s co-conspirator also fraudulently applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) under the CARES Act on behalf of Walker and Nutscola. The fraudulent EIDL loan did not close.
On April 26, 2022, law enforcement executed a federal search warrant at Walker’s residence and seized multiple electronic devices, including Walker’s phone, as well as over $30,000 in cash hidden in a garbage bag inside a heater in Walker’s bedroom. The $30,000 in cash constituted fraudulently obtained PPP funds. Walker has made no payments in connection with the PPP loan obtained for Nutscola, and the entire PPP loan amount of $262,252 remains outstanding.
The District of Maryland Strike Force is one of three strike forces established throughout the United States by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute COVID-19 fraud, including fraud relating to the CARES Act. The CARES Act was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The strike forces focus on large-scale, multi-state pandemic relief fraud perpetrated by criminal organizations and transnational actors. The strike forces are interagency law enforcement efforts, using prosecutor-led and data analyst-driven teams designed to identify and bring to justice those who stole pandemic relief funds.
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.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the FBI and the Baltimore County Police Department for their work in the investigation and thanked the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General for its assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul A. Riley, who prosecuted the case. He also recognized the assistance of the Maryland COVID-19 Strike Force Paralegal Specialist Joanna B.N. Huber.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit www.justice.gov/usao/md.
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