Ulster County Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Commit COVID-19 Relief Fraud
ALBANY, NEW YORK – Jean R. Lavanture, a/k/a “JR,” a/k/a “Rudy Lavanture,” age 48, of Saugerties, New York, pled guilty today to conspiring to commit bank fraud and conspiring to commit wire fraud, and admitted to fraudulently obtaining $4,870,781 in government-backed loans meant for businesses struggling with the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Lavanture is the third person to plead guilty in this case.
The announcement was made by Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon and Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon stated: “Mr. Lavanture and his co-conspirator Sean M. Andre took millions from COVID-19 relief programs, to the detriment of lenders, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the legitimate businesses that could have put this money to good use. With our law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate and prosecute fraudsters who prey upon government-backed loan programs meant to stabilize legitimate businesses during an unprecedented pandemic.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Janeen DiGuiseppi stated: “Mr. Lavanture stole over $4.5 million from a government program designed to help small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Lavanture and his co-conspirator’s fraud scheme impacted the ability of an untold number of businesses, while selfishly lining their own pockets. The FBI, together with our partners, will continue to seek out and investigate these callous fraudsters who target hardworking Americans.”
In pleading guilty, Lavanture admitted to conspiring with Andre to obtain $4,309,581 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans between June and August 2020, by submitting fraudulent loan applications in the names of four companies that Lavanture controlled. Each loan application grossly misrepresented each company’s employees and payroll. Each application also included false corporate tax documents that Andre created as part of the scheme. Lavanture admitted that none of his companies actually had a payroll or employees.
Lavanture also admitted that, on his own, he fraudulently obtained $561,200 in Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDLs”) from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Lavanture agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $4,870,781, and to forfeit proceeds of the fraud, including a motel property he purchased in Rockaway Beach, Missouri; $476,253.25 in U.S. currency; a 2007 Bentley Continental; a 2013 BMW X5; and the balances of 19 bank accounts at a total of 9 banks, into which he deposited fraud proceeds.
Lavanture faces up to 30 years in prison for bank fraud conspiracy, and up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud conspiracy, when he is sentenced on January 6, 2022 by Chief United States District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.
Lavanture, a citizen of Haiti, has been in custody since September 17, 2020, when FBI agents arrested him on a criminal complaint.
Andre, age 31, of Brooklyn, New York, pled guilty on May 26, 2021 to conspiring to commit bank fraud and conspiring to commit wire fraud. Andre’s sentencing is scheduled for January 6, 2022.
Jamur Pharmes, age 43, of Hampton, Georgia, pled guilty on July 1, 2021 to conspiring to commit wire fraud. He admitted that he and Lavanture conspired to submit fraudulent EIDL applications in the names of two companies connected to Pharmes. Pharmes obtained approximately $159,900 as a result of the scheme, and paid a $10,000 fee to Lavanture. Pharmes is scheduled to be sentenced on December 9, 2021.
This case was investigated by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service (IRS)-Criminal Investigation, and the SBA Office of Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Barnett and Joshua R. Rosenthal.
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.