Atlanta man sentenced to federal prison in connection with a multimillion-dollar international cyber and fraud scheme
ATLANTA – Darrell Thomas has been sentenced after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud and to money laundering for masterminding a scheme to obtain 14 fraudulent loans totaling approximately $11.1 million from the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). To date, a total of twenty-three individuals have been charged in connection with the fraudulent scheme.
“Thomas took advantage of pandemic relief funds intended for struggling small businesses to line his own pockets,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K Buchanan. “Every dollar he took diverted funds from legitimate business owners suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic who desperately needed assistance to pay their employees. The sentence imposed today shows that fraud does not pay.”
“Thomas orchestrated a massive fraudulent scheme to greedily line his pockets with stolen government funds that were intended to provide relief to small businesses and their employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic”, said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Hopefully, Thomas enjoyed his short-lived fun with all the luxury items purchased with stolen tax payer money, as he will now pay for his crimes with a lengthy prison sentence.”
“The charges and last week’s sentencing show IRS Criminal Investigation’s commitment to defend the integrity of the pandemic relief programs,” said IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey. “We will continue to contribute our financial expertise to identify fraud, trace the funds, and bring the criminals to justice.”
“These results demonstrate the commitment of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to investigate and bring to justice those who attempt to corruptly interfere with Federal tax administration,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “We appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners to ensure this criminal activity is held to account.”
“OIG continues to bring to justice those persons who would seek to exploit federal programs for unlawful personal gain,” said SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite. “Our Office will remain relentless in the pursuit of fraudsters who seek to exploit SBA’s vital economic programs. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for their dedication and commitment to seeing justice served.”
According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the second superseding indictment, and other information presented in court: From April 2020 through August 2020, Darrell Thomas orchestrated a PPP loan scheme involving at least fourteen fraudulent loans. Each of the fourteen businesses obtained a PPP loan between $700,000 and $850,000, for a total of over $11.1 million. The loan applications certified that each applicant business was in operation on February 15, 2020 and had employees for whom it paid salaries and payroll taxes or paid independent contractors; that the funds would be used to retain workers and maintain payroll or make mortgage interest payments, lease payments, and utility payments; and that the information provided in the application and in all supporting documents and forms was true and accurate in all material respects.
The PPP loan applications reported that each business had between 59 and 69 employees and approximately $295,000 to $342,000 in average monthly payroll expenses. To support these payroll figures, each business’s loan application was accompanied by an Internal Revenue Service Form 941, which employers use to report payroll taxes, for each quarter of 2019 and by a bank statement or a spreadsheet reflecting payroll expenses. In reality, however, none of the businesses had employees or payroll expenses. The Form 941s, bank statements, and W2 payroll spreadsheets had all been fabricated. Indeed, some of the supporting documents the businesses submitted were substantively identical, including identical Form 941s and identical bank statements.
After the PPP loan proceeds were deposited into the businesses’ accounts, the businesses transferred more than $5.5 million of the PPP loan proceeds into accounts controlled by Darrell Thomas, purportedly for rental payments and payroll. However, none of the businesses had any legitimate business with any of the businesses or accounts to which they sent the proceeds. Based on the investigation, none of the companies allegedly engaged in any business-related transactions or used the PPP loan proceeds for any authorized purposes. Instead, the businesses used the funds for various personal expenses. In connection with the investigation, the United States seized more than $4 million in PPP loan proceeds, four luxury vehicles, and several jewelry items.
Darrell Thomas, 36, of Johns Creek, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. P. Boulee to fifteen years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $13,206,752.10. On June 16, 2021, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud and one count of money laundering. As part of his guilty plea, Thomas admitted his participation in fraudulent conduct totaling more than $14.7 million, including approximately $11.1 million in fraudulent PPP loans, more than $1.15 million in fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and more than $2.4 million in fraudulent automobile loans.
He also agreed to forfeit various assets, including more than $2.1 million in seized funds, three luxury vehicles – a 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S65AMG, a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover, and a 2017 Acura NSX – and several items of jewelry, including a gold Rolex.
To date, a total of twenty-three individuals have been charged in connection with the fraudulent scheme. Eleven other individuals have pleaded guilty and six other individuals have been sentenced, while the remaining eleven individuals’ charges remain pending.
The following defendants have either pleaded guilty based on their roles in the fraudulent scheme or have been sentenced to date:
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the Small Business Administration-Office of the Inspector General.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tal Chaiken and Nathan Kitchens of the Northern District of Georgia and Trial Attorney Siji Moore of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are 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.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.