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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Lackawanna County Man Charged With Covid-Relief Fraud, Credit Card Fraud, And Identity Theft Offenses

SCRANTON - The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that on September 23, 2022, Robert Brownstein, age 51, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was charged in a criminal information with wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.

According to United States Attorney Gerard M. Karam, the information alleges that Brownstein and his coconspirators used stolen identities to create forged identification documents and credit and debit cards.  It is alleged that the conspirators used those forged items and stolen identities to open bank accounts, apply for lines of credit, and obtain retail merchandise.  The conspirators also used the stolen identities to apply for multiple COVID-19 pandemic relief loans issued under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including by submitted false federal tax documentation.

The PPP is designed to help small businesses facing financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Funded by the March 2020 CARES Act, PPP funds are offered in forgivable loans, provided that certain criteria are met, including use of the funds for employee payroll, mortgage interest, lease, and utilities expenses.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, and the Pottsville Bureau of Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip J. Caraballo is 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 maximum penalty under federal law for the wire fraud conspiracy offense is 30 years of imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine.  The aggravated identity theft offense carries a mandatory two-year sentence of imprisonment that is to run consecutive to any other term of imprisonment imposed.  A sentence following a finding of guilt is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court.

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Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Identity Theft
Updated September 27, 2022