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Press Release

Middle District Of Florida Task Force Continues To Combat COVID-19 Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, FL – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces the results achieved by the Middle District of Florida’s efforts to combat fraud related to COVID-19. Those efforts have included complementary actions by the Criminal, Asset Recovery, and Civil Divisions, along with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

“The Middle District of Florida United States Attorney’s Office remains committed to protecting the integrity of government programs established to provide relief for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Handberg. “These cases should serve as a warning to those who might have engaged in similar fraudulent activity that holding those accountable for these crimes remains a high priority for federal authorities.”

On the criminal enforcement front, the United States Attorney’s Office and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies joined together in March 2020 to form the Middle District of Florida COVID-19 Fraud Task Force to identify, investigate, and prosecute fraud related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Since its inception, the task force has prosecuted 52 individuals for fraud schemes designed to exploit federal programs created or expanded to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDL”), Unemployment Insurance (“UI”), the Main Street Lending Program (“MSLP”), and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”). These individuals collectively sought to defraud the United States of more than $58 million. Thirty-seven of those defendants have been found guilty, while prosecution remains pending against fifteen others. (See chart for criminal case details.)

In one example, U.S. District Judge Wendy W. Berger sentenced Don V. Cisternino (47, Chuluota) to eight years and six months in federal prison for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and illegal monetary transaction related to Cisternino’s obtaining more than $7.2 million in emergency funds through a PPP loan to which he was not entitled. Cisternino pleaded guilty on September 20, 2022, after being extradited from Croatia.

In December 2022, U.S. Attorney Handberg announced the unsealing of a six-count indictment charging Canadian citizens Evan Edwards (64, New Smyrna Beach) and Joshua Edwards (30, New Smyrna Beach) with federal offenses related to the CARES Act and visa fraud. According to the indictment, Evan and Joshua Edwards conspired to commit bank fraud and committed bank fraud by submitting a fraudulent PPP loan on behalf of Aslan International Ministry, Inc. (“Aslan”)—a not-for-profit corporation that purportedly provided religious services. In the loan application, the pair significantly overstated the number of employees and average monthly payroll for Aslan, claiming that it had almost 500 employees and over $2 million in average monthly payroll expenses. They also falsely certified in the loan application that the PPP funds would be used to maintain payroll and for other authorized purposes. Based on the false representations made in the loan application, Evan and Joshua Edwards received into their bank account approximately $8,417,200 in PPP loan funds, a portion of which they used to make a down payment for the attempted purchase of a multi-million-dollar residence for themselves.

Further, the Asset Recovery Division and federal seizing agencies have completed the forfeiture of more than $16.8 million of EIDL, UI, and PPP funds that were fraudulently obtained, depriving the fraudsters of their ill-gotten gains and recovering the proceeds for the victims. More than $9.8 million in additional pandemic fraud proceeds have been seized and are pending civil or criminal forfeiture.

The Attorney General has 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. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Through the PPP, the federal government authorized over $600 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. The EIDL program provides economic relief to small businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. The MSLP provided support to small and medium-sized businesses and their employees across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. UI programs provided unemployment benefits to eligible workers who became unemployed through no fault of their own.

The criminal cases charged by the Middle District of Florida COVID-19 Fraud Task Force have been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation, the Department of Labor—Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—Office of Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, the Federal Reserve Board – Office of Inspector General, the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, the Tampa Police Department, the Orlando Police Department, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the Winter Park Police Department, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys throughout the Middle District of Florida.       

The Department of Justice needs the public’s assistance in remaining vigilant and reporting suspected fraudulent activity. To report suspected fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) at (866) 720-5721 or file an online complaint at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-…. Complaints filed will be reviewed at the NCDF and referred to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for investigation.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

 

MDFL COVID Fraud Criminal Cases

Charged Cases

Defendant(s) (Age)

Charge(s)

Max. Imprisonment

Type of Fraud*

Intended Loss

Amount

Tampa Division

Joseph Abdo (39)

 

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Illegal monetary transactions

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

PPP

$500k

Alexander Leszczynski (22)

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 Years

Illegal monetary transactions

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

PPP

$200k

Charles Cunningham (72)

Bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 years

PPP

$800k

Ellyn Pinkney (60)

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL

$14M

Kieanna Garrett

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL

$40k

Nicole Bramble-King

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$40k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division are being handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones, Greg Pizzo, Candace Rich, and Jennifer Peresie

Orlando Division

Evan Edwards (64)

Joshua Edwards (30)

Conspiracy to commit bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 years

Bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 years

Visa fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 10 years

False statements

Maximum Prison Term: 30 years

PPP

$8M

Emmet Bowens (53)

 

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Illegal monetary transactions

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

PPP

$740k

Keith Ingersoll

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 5 Years

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum: Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

EIDL

$66k

Jaheim Davis

Access device fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum: Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

UI

$219k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Orlando Division are being handled by AUSAs Kara Wick, Chauncy Bratt, Shannon Laurie, and Amanda Daniels

Jacksonville Division

Jacob Byrd

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$20k

Desmond Williams

Wire fraud conspiracy

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$40k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Jacksonville Division are being handled by AUSA Kevin Frein

Fort Myers Division

Venera Price (45)

Mail fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

ERAP

$82k

This COVID Fraud case from the Fort Myers Division is being handled by AUSA Yolande Viacava

Ocala Division

Lavelle Harris (36)

Wire Fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$1.2M

Henry Wade

Wire Fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL

$500k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Ocala Division are being handled by AUSA Hannah Nowalk

Adjudicated Cases

Tampa Division

Jorge Gutierrez Echeverria (33)

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL

$150k

Keaujay Hornsby (26)

Racketeering conspiracy

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

Access device fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

UI

$3M

Kareem Spann (27)

Racketeering conspiracy

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

Access device fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

UI

$3M

Richard Simpkins (47)

 

Conspiracy to commit bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 Years

Illegal monetary transactions

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

PPP

$1.9M

Steve Moodie (33)

 

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 5 Years

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum: Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

UI

$1.5M

Marqus Willard Johnson

Bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 Years

Money laundering

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$500k

Omar Esquivel Bello

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL

$242k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division are being handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones, Diego Novaes, Tiffany Fields, Jennifer Peresie, and Greg Pizzo, and DOJ Trial Attorney John Scanlon

Orlando Division

Brian Blake (30)

 

Possession of device-making equipment

Maximum Prison Term: 15 Years

Access device fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum: Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

PPP/UI

$832k

Daniel Johnson (34)

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Aggravated identity theft

Maximum Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

Unlawful transfer of firearm

Maximum Prison Term: 5 Years

UI

$2.3M

Teresa McIntyre (55)

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and other offenses

Maximum Prison Term: 5 Years

EIDL

$730k

 

This COVID Fraud case from the Orlando Division is being handled by AUSAs Chauncey Bratt, Amanda Daniels, Jennifer Harrington, and Dana Hill, and U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg

Fort Myers Division

Daniel Joseph Tisone (34)

 

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Bank fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 30 Years

Money laundering

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

Aggravated Identity Theft

Maximum Prison Term: 2 Years Consecutive

Possession of Ammunition by a Prohibited Person

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

PPP/EIDL/MSLP

$2.6M

Liliana Gonzalez (31)

 

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$169k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Fort Myers Division are being handled by AUSAs Trent Reichling and Jesus M. Casas

Sentenced Cases

Tampa Division

Louis Thornton, III (63)

 

Wire Fraud

Sentence Imposed: 42 months in federal prison

EIDL/PPP

$815k

Kary Stevenson (48)

Corey Quinn (35)

 

Conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft

Sentence Imposed: 5 years, 10 months in federal prison (Stevenson)

Sentence Imposed:7 years in federal prison (Quinn)

UI

$1M

Bridgitte Keim (52)

 

Bank fraud

Sentence Imposed: 2 years in federal prison

PPP

$588k

Wayne Ganaway (47)

 

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Sentence Imposed: 4 years in federal prison

EIDL

$300k

Eriaius Bentley (29)

Racketeering conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, access device fraud

Sentence Imposed: One year in federal prison

UI

$3M

Rolanda Wingfield (39)

Access device fraud, Aggravated identity theft

Sentenced Imposed: 3 years in federal prison

UI

$135k

 

Tywon Spann (25)

Racketeering conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, access device fraud

Sentence Imposed: 6 years and 9 months in federal prison

UI

$3M

Randy Jones (34)

 

Wire fraud, aggravated identity theft

Sentence Imposed: 5 years and 1 month in federal prison

EIDL/UI

$250k

Julio Lugo (45)

 

Conspiracy to commit money laundering

Sentence Imposed: 7 years and 6 months in federal prison

EIDL/PPP

$4.4M

Keith Nicoletta (49)

 

Conspiracy to commit money laundering

Sentence Imposed: 24 months in federal prison

PPP

$1.9M

Rosenide Venant (37)

 

Conspiracy to commit money laundering

Sentence Imposed: 5 years in federal prison

EIDL/PPP

$413k

 

Melinda Hernandez (33)

 

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Wire fraud and aggravated identity theft

Sentence imposed: Three years and six months in federal prison

UI

$1.5M

Briantina Mills

Wire fraud and theft of government funds

Sentence imposed: 15 months in federal prison

 

 

These COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division were handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones, Greg Pizzo, Tiffany Fields, Diego Novaes, and SAUSA Chris Poor

Orlando Division

Jacquavius Smith (21)

 

Possession of short-barreled rifle; felon in possession of firearm; and aggravated identity theft

Sentence Imposed: 7 years, 1 month in federal prison

PPP

$10k

 

Johnson Eustache (40)

 

Wire fraud

Sentence Imposed: 5 years in federal prison

EIDL/PPP

$2.2M

Joseph Harrison (43)

 

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Sentence Imposed: 12 months in federal prison

UI

$2.1M

Tomas Ziupsnys (39)

 

Conspiracy to commit bank fraud; bank fraud; aggravated identity theft

Sentence Imposed: 5 years in federal prison

PPP

$2M

Holly Urban (36)

 

Conspiracy to commit bank fraud

Sentence Imposed: 30 months in federal prison

PPP

$1.5M

Joel Greenberg (37)

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and other offenses while on pretrial release

Sentence Imposed: 11 years in federal prison

EIDL

$430k

Don Cisternino (46)

 

Wire fraud, illegal monetary transactions, and aggravated identity theft

Sentence Imposed: 8 and one half years in federal prison

PPP

$7.2M

 

These COVID Fraud cases from the Orlando Division were handled by AUSAs John Gardella, Amanda Daniels, Chauncey Bratt, Emily Chang, and Jennifer Harrington, and U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg

Fort Myers Division

Casey Crowther (36)

 

Bank fraud, false statement to a financial institution, illegal monetary transaction

Sentence Imposed: 3 years, 1 month in federal prison

PPP

$2.7M

Anthony Bruey (36)

Amber Bruey (35)

 

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, Conspiracy to commit money laundering, Illegal monetary transactions

Sentence Imposed:

Anthony Bruey: 4 years, 3 months in federal prison

Amber Bruey: 4 years in federal prison

PPP/EIDL

$881k

Edrica Leann Watson (30)

 

False statement to a lending institution

Sentence Imposed: 15 months in federal prison

PPP

$392k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Fort Myers Division were handled by AUSA Trent Reichling and AUSA Jesus M. Casas

Types of Fraud*

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Main Street Lending Program (MSLP)

Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)

 

Updated January 17, 2023

Topics
Coronavirus
Disaster Fraud
Financial Fraud