Florida Felon Admits Role in Multi-Million Dollar Health Care Kickback Scheme After Pleading Guilty to COVID-19 Fraud and Unlawfully Possessing Firearms
MIAMI – On Feb. 5, a Miami woman was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison for money laundering of nearly $2 million in fraudulent COVID-19 relief loans, after previously pleading guilty in October 2023.
From April 2020 through April 2021, Maritza Morales Hermoso, 58, of Miami, Florida, and others, including co-defendant Javier Lazo Cabrera, conspired to defraud private lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA) by filing false and fraudulent loan applications for multiple companies under both the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, despite that several of those companies had no payroll and were not actively doing business at the time the loan applications were submitted. The applications were supported by fabricated payroll documents and inflated employee numbers. As a result of these false and fraudulent applications, a California-based SBA-approved PPP lender disbursed close to $2 million in fraudulent loan proceeds to bank accounts controlled by Hermoso.
Hermoso spent the proceeds from the fraudulent PPP and EIDL loans on gambling at South Florida casinos and various other personal expenses like cosmetic surgery, a Cadillac Escalade, and a Pomeranian puppy. Hermoso also disguised her misuse of funds by laundering the loan proceeds through multiple unrelated business accounts and withdrawing the money in cash.
Hermoso’s co-defendant, Cabrera, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in December 2023. Cabrera’s sentencing is scheduled for March 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Miami. Cabrera faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Rafael Barros of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Miami Field Office, SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite, U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General (SBA OIG), Investigations Division’s Eastern Region, and Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey B. Veltri of FBI, Miami Field Office announced the sentence.
USSS Miami, SBA OIG, Investigations Division’s Eastern Region, and FBI Miami investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Egozi and Roger Cruz prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mitchell Evan Hyman is handling asset forfeiture.
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. Among other sources of relief, the CARES Act authorized and provided funding to the SBA to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDLs”) to eligible small businesses, including sole proprietorships and independent contractors, experiencing substantial financial disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow them to meet financial obligations and operating expenses that could otherwise have been met had the disaster not occurred. EIDL applications were submitted directly to the SBA via the SBA’s on-line application website, and the applications were processed and the loans funded for qualifying applicants directly by the SBA.
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.
On September 15, 2022, the Attorney General selected the Southern District of Florida’s U.S. Attorney’s Office to head one of three national COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force Teams. The Department of Justice established the Strike Force to enhance existing efforts to combat and prevent COVID-19 related financial fraud. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please click here.
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.
Related court documents and information may be found 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 number 22-cr-20360.
Public Affairs Unit
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida