MIAMI – On Nov. 1, a Miami federal grand jury charged three Miami residents for their alleged role in a COVID-19 relief fraud scheme.
Heidi Cid, 54, Lazaro Verdecia Hernandez, 36, and Yadier Rodriguez Arteaga, 38 all of Miami, Florida, have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering, in connection with a scheme to obtain fraudulent loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
According to the allegations in the indictment and statements made in court, Cid, Verdecia Hernandez, and Rodriguez Arteaga allegedly submitted fraudulent PPP loan applications to SBA-approved PPP lenders. In support of the fraudulent loan applications, the defendants allegedly submitted several false and fraudulent documents misrepresenting the number of the companies’ employees to make the businesses appear eligible for pandemic relief. According to the allegations, SBA-approved lenders disbursed over $14.5 million to bank accounts controlled by co-conspirators, who allegedly would then withdraw the money and give Cid, Verdecia Hernandez, and Rodriguez Arteaga a portion of the proceeds.
Cid, Verdecia Hernandez, and Rodriguez Arteaga made their initial appearance in federal magistrate court in Miami. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison on the conspiracy and fraud counts, and two years on the money laundering counts. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Rafael Barros for the United States Secret Service (USSS), and 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, announced the charges.
USSS Miami and SBA OIG investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Haggerty is prosecuting it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Paster is handling asset forfeiture.
The following defendants have pleaded guilty for their involvement in this COVID-19 relief fraud scheme (sentencing information is noted where available):
Nancy Bahos Serna, of Miami, Florida (23-cr-20310) has made her initial appearance in federal court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Bernstein is prosecuting this case.
Javier Pico, of Miami, Florida, and Erisbel Gonzalez Gomez, of Palm Beach County, Florida (22-cr-20368) have been charged for their alleged involvement in the scheme but remain fugitives.
An indictment contains mere allegations, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
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 23-cr-20421.
Public Affairs Unit
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida