California Businessman Pleads Guilty to COVID-Relief Fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – November 30, 2023
SAN DIEGO – Sean Winston, the CEO of Atlas Capital Management, LLC, pleaded guilty in federal court today, admitting that he fraudulently obtained $875,900 from COVID-19 pandemic-era loan programs.
According to his plea agreement, Winston held Atlas Capital Management out to the public as an entity that financed business projects, but in fact performed no business and was a shell corporation. Winston admitted that he submitted five loan and loan-forgiveness applications containing false statements to trick lenders into giving his company relief funds. Winston submitted fabricated bank account records, false payroll data, and a fake IRS Form 1120-S to create the illusion that Atlas Capital Management qualified for various pandemic era loans.
Winston admitted that he used the borrowed funds to pay his personal expenses and purchase luxury vehicles, such as a 2021 Lamborghini Urus, 2018 Rolls Royce Dawn, 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, and 2021 Cadillac Escalade. On September 28, 2023, federal law enforcement agents seized the vehicles and money in two bank accounts. Winston agreed to forfeit the cars and money to the United States.
The defendant applied for loans through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), which was enacted on March 27, 2020, to provide more than $2 trillion of economic relief to workers, families, small businesses, industry sectors and other levels of government that were hit hard by the public health crisis created by COVID-19. The CARES Act authorized the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to temporarily guarantee loans under a new loan program titled the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”).
Under the PPP, financial institutions made loans to qualified borrowers, and the SBA backed the loans. Borrowers agreed to use the PPP loans to cover payroll costs and certain eligible nonpayroll costs. In some cases, the borrower could apply for forgiveness of the loan. If approved for forgiveness, the SBA paid the loan for the borrower. One of Winston’s loans was forgiven.
The CARES Act also authorized the SBA to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDL”). Winston also submitted a false EIDL application. Borrowers agreed to use EIDL funds solely as working capital to alleviate economic injury caused by the disaster. Working capital expenses included payroll expenses, sick leave, production costs, and ordinary business obligations, like debts, rent, and mortgage payments.
Winston is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes on March 4, 2024.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys E. Christopher Beeler and Carl F. Brooker, IV.
DEFENDANT Case Number 23-CR-2441-WQH
Sean K. Winston Age: 44 Chino Hills, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Wire Fraud – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1343
Maximum penalty: Thirty years in prison and $1 million fine
Homeland Security Investigations
Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726 or Kelly.Thornton@usdoj.gov
Updated November 30, 2023
Press Release Number: CAS23-1130-Winston