Active-Duty Air Force Member Agrees To Pay Treble Damages To Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Relating To Fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program Loan
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Phillip Timothy Howard, 62, of Tallahassee, Florida, was sentenced to fourteen years in federal prison after previously pleading guilty to racketeering (RICO). The sentence was announced by Jason R. Coody, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
“The defendant should have been protecting the interest of his injured clients, rather than swindling their investments,” said U.S. Attorney Coody. “Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal to unlawfully enrich themselves. With our law enforcement partners, we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who engage in such fraudulent conduct.”
Court documents reflect between December 2015, and January 2018, Howard, a Florida attorney, along with associates and employees of his Tallahassee law firm (Howard & Associates, P.A.) engaged in a criminal Enterprise to defraud his clients of funds from an NFL class-action lawsuit. In addition to his law firm, Howard used several Tallahassee investment companies (Cambridge Capital Group, LLC; Cambridge Capital Wealth Advisors, LLC; Cambridge Capital Advisors, LLC; Cambridge Capital Funding, Inc., Cambridge Capital Group Equity Option Opportunities, L.P.; and Cambridge Capital Partners, L.P.) under his control to steal from clients. Howard, and others conducted and participated in the affairs of the Enterprise, through a pattern of racketeering activity, namely, wire fraud and money laundering. As part of his representation, Howard fraudulently enticed his clients to invest their retirement funds with his investment companies while failing to disclose the structure of the Enterprise, the conflicts of interest, the criminal background of persons associated with or employed by the Enterprise, and the true nature of the investment companies’ funds.
Despite reassuring investors that their money was secure, Howard never informed them that almost none of the investment funds yielded a return and failed to disclose that the investment funds had been commingled with funds used to operate his law firm and to issue payroll for its staff, pay Howard’s personal mortgages, and otherwise personally enrich Howard.
“Phillip Howard weaponized the trust of others,” said Sherri E. Onks, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division. “As an attorney, he should have been helping his ailing clients invest in a better future, but instead he stole from their pocketbooks for his own personal gain. And when that wasn’t enough, he exploited the trust of third-party lenders, destabilizing businesses that were reliant on his honesty and integrity. The FBI and our partners will never stop working to protect innocent people and companies from fraud like this.”
In addition, the former NFL player investors were provided fraudulent quarterly and year-end investment statements which indicated that investor funds were allocated into two separate investment funds, including a fund designed specifically to invest in equities. In reality, there were no separated, dedicated investment funds, and the bank accounts for the Enterprise had little or no money. Howard and others fraudulently obtained over $4 million through such conduct.
“IRS-CI agents put a full blitz on Phillip Howard; today’s sentencing is another example of IRS-CI’s ability to quickly tackle those who lie and mislead victims for their own personal enrichment,” said Tara K. Reed IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge. “As an attorney, Howard should have been protecting the interest of his clients rather than intentionally sacking their investments.”
Additionally, Howard sought third-party lenders that would be willing to lend money to Howard’s former NFL clients in advance of their potential NFL concussion settlements as part of the NFL class-action lawsuit, and to Howard as litigation funding for the NFL class-action lawsuit. To obtain such funds for himself and his clients, Howard provided false and fraudulent information, including numerous material misrepresentations and omissions, to the lenders. Howard and others fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain approximately $8 million from third-party lenders through such conduct.
Howard also solicited investment in a real estate project located in Jacksonville, Florida, and in doing so, promised the investor certain investment returns within a specified period. After the investor transferred money to the investment company, Howard and an employee falsely told the investor that additional money was needed to close the real estate deal. In reliance on this false promise, the investor transferred additional proceeds, only to be told several months that the real estate investment funds were secure and would be returned to her. Howard fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain over $520,000 from this investor through this conduct.
Howard’s prison sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release, and he will also be required to pay restitution in the amount of $12.64 million.
This conviction was the result of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigations, with assistance from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin M. Keen and David P. Byron.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website. For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.
United States Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Florida
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