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Press Release

Five Lowcountry Individuals Sentenced for Role in COVID-19 Loan Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of South Carolina

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Five of eight individuals who were charged for their role in a COVID-19 loan fraud scheme were sentenced this week.

In March 2020, Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 to continue paying their employees.  Pursuant to the CARES Act, there were two sources of relief.  One was through a program called the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and a second was through Emergency Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDL”). The CARES Act also authorized the SBA to issue emergency advances, also referred to as grants, of up to $10,000.00 depending on the number of employees a small business employed. 

Evidence presented to the court showed that the below individuals, and their co-defendants, devised and participated in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration, and its approved third-party lenders, in their application and receipt of PPP loan funds and EIDL advances. The evidence introduced showed that these individuals submitted fraudulent loan documents, which included the creation of fraudulent companies as well as the submission of falsified tax documentation, to induce the SBA and its third-party lenders to fund the loans.  Between the eight individuals charged, three EIDL advances, and 12 PPP Loans were funded by the SBA or their approved third-party lenders for a total of $295,841.00 in loans.  

The five individuals sentenced this week were:

  • Staci Harley, 41, of Summerville, was sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to wire fraud;
  • Anthony Harley, 40, of North Charleston, who was an inmate incarcerated with the South Carolina Department of Corrections at the time he committed these offenses, was sentenced to two years after pleading guilty to wire fraud;
  • Benjamin Blue, 42, of Summerville, was sentenced to one year and one day after pleading guilty to wire fraud;
  • Sheniqua Mitchell, 37, of North Charleston, was sentenced to 33 months after pleading guilty to wire fraud;
  • Roberta Harley, 61, of North Charleston, received a time-served sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

“These sentencings mark another victory against this large-scale criminal operation that tormented the Charleston area with illegal drugs, guns, and financial crimes,” Adair F. Boroughs, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina. “We will continue to prosecute those who threaten the safety of our communities with illegal trafficking rings.”

“The Secret Service is diligent in our investigation and pursuit of those who engage in fraudulent criminal activity. We appreciate the commitment from our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to see that justice was served in this case,” said Resident Agent in Charge, Ben Stafford, of the Secret Service’s Charleston, SC Resident Office. “These sentencings reflect the seriousness with which the government handles financial crimes and should act as a warning to those who aspire to exploit government relief programs that are put in place to help those in need.”

“These individuals deceptively lined their pockets with federally approved loans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when so many struggling businesses tried to survive,” said Steve Jensen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Columbia Field Office. “The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, are committed to the vigorous pursuit of justice against those who pose harm to our financial systems, and this outcome should send a strong message that offenders will be held fully accountable.”

“This sentencing highlights a significant achievement in dismantling a criminal network engaged in fraudulent activities,” said SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Braithwaite. “Our unwavering commitment to protecting the integrity of SBA’s programs ensure that fraud is met with the full force of the law. I want to thank our U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for their collaboration and dedication to pursing justice in this case.”

“The City of Charleston Police Department is grateful for the collaboration with its federal partners and will continue to assist in bringing to justice Charleston area residents who commit these financial crimes,” said Charleston Police Deputy Chief Andre Jenkins.

United States District Judge Richard M. Gergel sentenced the five individuals and each of their sentences will be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision.  There is no parole in the federal system. The judge also ordered a total restitution in the amount of $286, 272.05 be paid. 

This case was brought through a joint investigation called Operation Trendsetter, announced in May 2023. Assistant United States Attorneys Amy Bower and Whit Sowards are prosecuting the cases with assistance from the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.

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

This prosecution was also part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at



MEDIA CONTACT:   Veronica Hill, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Attorney’s Office,, (803) 929-3000

Updated June 14, 2024