Defendant Pleads Guilty to Stealing $24 Million in COVID-19 Relief Money Through Fraud Scheme that Used Synthetic Identities
Miami, Fl. -- Today, Hasan Hakim Brown, 45, pled guilty in Ft. Lauderdale federal district court to working with co-conspirators to steal $24 million of COVID-19 relief money by using synthetic identities and shell companies they had created years earlier to commit other bank fraud.
Criminals manufacture synthetic identities by using the personal and financial information of real people (such as stolen social security numbers) with fraudulent, made-up information (such as fake names and dates of birth). They use the new, synthetic identities to open fraudulent bank and credit card accounts and commit other fraud.
Years before the pandemic, Brown and his co-conspirators used complex computer data storage and virtualization machines to manufacture synthetic identities, automatically open bank accounts and shell companies, and monitor bank activity tied to the synthetic (as well as stolen) identities. In 2017, they used the synthetic and stolen identities and associated bank accounts and shell companies to steal money from a bank in Texas.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act was enacted. It was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the Paycheck Protection Program, which has authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses to use for payroll, rent, utility, and other approved expenses.
Brown and his co-conspirators used their already-established synthetic identities and associated shell companies to fraudulently apply for financial assistance under PPP. They applied for and received $24 million dollars in PPP relief. The money was paid to companies registered to Brown and his co-conspirators, as well as to companies registered to synthetic identities that Brown and his co-conspirators controlled.
Brown pled guilty today to one count of conspiring to commit bank fraud. Brown’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 9, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Singhal. Brown faces up to 30 years in federal prison.
The following defendants have also been charged for their role in this scheme: Kevin Kirton and Jean Renald Fleuridor (20-20262-CR-Singhal), and Raul Mauricio Gonzalez (21-mj-02959-EGT). To date, law enforcement has seized approximately $11.5 million dollars in fraudulently obtained funds from members of the conspiracy, as well as Rolex, Baume & Mercier, Hubolt, and Cartier watches.
Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Kyle A. Myles, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspection General - Investigations (FDIC-OIG), Atlanta Region; Brian Swain, Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service (USSS); Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite, Special Agent in Charge, Small Business Administration, Investigations Division (SBA-OIG), Eastern Regional Office; George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; Rod Owens, Special Agent in Charge, Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General; and Joseph W. Cronin, Inspector in Charge, Miami Division, United States Postal Inspection Service, USPIS, made the announcement.
FDIC-OIG, USSS Miami, SBA-OIG, FBI Miami, SSA-OIG, and USPIS handled the investigation, with assistance from Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke Watson is prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole S. Grosnof is handling asset forfeiture.
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 Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
Related court documents and information appear on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov, under case n21-cr-20262.