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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Announces Results Of Multi-Faceted Strategy To Combat Fraud Related To COVID-19

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 during fiscal year 2022, ending September 30, 2022. Those efforts have included complementary actions by the Criminal, Asset Recovery, and Civil Divisions, along with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of government programs established to provide relief for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Handberg. “Those who seek to exploit these programs and further harm victims should beware. We will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

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 more than 40 defendants 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 cases and matters involve diverse schemes, from traditional healthcare fraud involving COVID-19 programs, to violent gangs using unemployment insurance fraud proceeds to operate their narcotics businesses. These defendants collectively sought to defraud the United States of over $52 million. Over thirty of those defendants have already been found guilty, while prosecution remains pending against nine defendants. (See chart for criminal case details.)

For example, on September 15, 2022, Marqus Johnson (40, Tampa) pleaded guilty to a 9-count Information charging him with bank fraud and illegal monetary transactions. Johnson formed and operated two corporate entities—All American Health, LLC and Next Level Health & Transportation, LLC—that purportedly were engaged in health care-related transportation services. In April and June 2020 and January 2021, Johnson use false and fraudulent representations to apply for a total of seven SBA-backed loans (one PPP loan and six EIDL) and received loan funding in connection with three of the loan applications. Based on his false representations, Johnson fraudulently obtained $544,900, including a $375,000 PPP loan.

In another matter, Julio Lugo (45, Davenport), a convicted felon on federal supervised release, conspired with others to steal nearly $6 million from the SBA’s PPP and EIDL programs and launder the proceeds of those stolen funds. Lugo pleaded guilty conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to more than nine years in federal prison on July 28, 2022. The court also imposed a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $4.4 million and entered an order of restitution in the amount of $4.8 million. 

The Middle District of Florida has been at the forefront of addressing the complex issues that arise out of investigating and charging frauds relating to new government programs. The Fort Myers Division, for example, was the first office in the country to take a COVID-19 fraud case to trial in United States v. Casey Crowther. Crowther was found guilty and sentenced to more than three years in federal prison. The Orlando Division meanwhile handled the country’s first COVID-19 fraud-related extradition in United States v. Don V. Cisternino. Cisternino recently pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and illegal monetary transactions related to his scheme to secure more than $7.2 million in emergency funds through a PPP loan.

Further, the Asset Recovery Division and federal seizing agencies have completed the forfeiture of more than $14.3 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 $8.5 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, United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation, Department of Labor—Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Small Business Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—Office of Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, Federal Reserve Board – Office of Inspector General, 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.

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

Jorge Gutierrez Echeverria (33)

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL

$150k

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

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

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

Emmet Bowens (53)

 

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Illegal monetary transactions

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

PPP

$740k

These COVID Fraud cases from the Orlando Division are being handled by AUSAs Chauncey Bratt and Amanda Daniels

Jacksonville Division

Jacob Byrd

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$20K

This COVID Fraud case from the Jacksonville Division is 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 (14 counts)

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years per count

PPP

$1.2M

This COVID Fraud case from the Ocala Division is being handled by AUSA Hannah Nowalk

Adjudicated Cases

Tampa Division

Keith Nicoletta (49)

 

Conspiracy to commit money laundering

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

PPP

$1.9M

Rosenide Venant (37)

 

Conspiracy to commit money laundering

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

EIDL/PPP

$413k

 

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

Melinda Hernandez (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

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

These COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division are being handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones, Tiffany Fields, John Michelich, and Greg Pizzo

Orlando Division

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

Joel Greenberg (37)

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

Maximum Prison Term: 15 Years

EIDL

$430k

Teresa McIntyre (55)

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and other offenses

Maximum Prison Term: 5 Years

EIDL

$730k

 

Don Cisternino (46)

 

Wire fraud

Maximum Prison Term: 20 Years

Illegal Monetary Transactions

Maximum Prison Term: 10 Years

Aggravated Identity Theft

Maximum Prison Term: Two Years Consecutive

PPP

$7.2M

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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 October 18, 2022

Topics
Coronavirus
Disaster Fraud
Financial Fraud