Jacksonville Man Pleads Guilty To COVID Relief Fraud And Money Laundering
Jacksonville, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Kenneth Steven Landers (57, Jacksonville) today pleaded guilty to wire fraud and engaging in an illegal monetary transaction. Landers faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
According to the plea agreement, during 2020 and 2021, Landers applied for federally backed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans ten times, requesting a total of $1,410,000. He submitted the applications on behalf of four different corporate entities that he controlled, specifically, the American Fallen Veterans Service Project Inc., Tire Empire LLC, Maypops LLC, and Florida United Inc. In support of each application, Landers electronically submitted false information and documents, including fictitious or altered Internal Revenue Service tax forms.
Notwithstanding Landers’s use of fraudulent documents, seven of his ten PPP loan applications were approved and funded in the total amount of $910,000, which was deposited into financial accounts that he controlled. Rather than use the loan proceeds exclusively to pay employees or for other allowable expenses under the PPP, Landers used funds for his personal benefit. For example, he paid off the mortgages on his home and a business property, purchased an 18kt gold Rolex watch, and bought a vintage Jaguar XKE Roadster. He also wrote checks to himself, transferred funds electronically to personal accounts, paid down personal debt, and made approximately $113,000 in cash withdrawals of funds traceable to PPP loan proceeds.
As part of his plea agreement, Landers agreed to forfeit $910,000, the proceeds of the wire fraud, as well as two pieces of real estate that he purchased or funded with the proceeds.
This case is being prosecuted as part of the Department of Justice’s prosecution of fraud schemes that exploit the CARES Act relief programs. The CARES Act is a federal law enacted in March 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the two programs that were developed through CARES Act is the PPP. It provides funding to businesses through PPP loans for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. PPP allows the interest and principal on loans to be forgiven if the business spends proceeds on certain expense items within a designated time and uses a certain percentage of the loan on payroll expenses. The Department of Justice remains vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis.
This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mai Tran and Michael J. Coolican.