Eight more defendants charged in COVID-19 relief fraud schemes
SDGA continues prosecutions targeting millions in pandemic relief fraud
SAVANNAH, GA: Eight more people have been charged in federal court with participating in COVID-19 relief fraud schemes, with two of them pleading guilty.
Each defendant is charged via an Information as the result of ongoing investigations into misuse of the U.S. government’s COVID-19 financial relief programs, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The charges carry statutory penalties up to 20 years in prison, along with substantial amounts of restitution and financial penalties, followed by a period of supervised release.
There is no parole in the federal system.
“Millions of distressed businesses found much-needed financial assistance during the pandemic through the U.S. government’s COVID-19 relief programs,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “It’s disappointing that others abused these programs not for saving a valid business, but for lining their own pockets.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed into law in March 2020. The CARES Act authorized the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide and/or guarantee loans to keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic’s financial challenges. Each of the eight defendants is accused of seeking relief payments through false and fraudulent representations regarding their businesses, real or fictitious, in order to receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans or Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).
Two defendants have entered guilty pleas:
- Cortazz Russ, 24, of Hampton, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Wire Fraud. Russ admitted filing two PPP loan applications containing false information in May 2021.
- Melvin D’Juan Williams, 34, of Fort Stewart, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Wire Fraud. Williams admitted including false statements in a PPP application in August 2020.
Six additional individuals have been charged via Information, and are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty:
- Salmat Deyji, 26, of Stockbridge, Ga., charged with Conspiracy regarding payments received for filing fraudulent PPP applications on behalf of others;
- Aleska Davis, 54, of Decatur, Ga., charged with Wire Fraud regarding two applications for PPP loans;
- Jimmy Cede, 21, of Savannah, charged with Wire Fraud regarding an application for a PPP loan;
- James Andre Wright, 40, of Savannah, charged with False Statements regarding an EIDL application;
- Calvin Beckford, 28, of Hinesville, Ga., charged with Wire Fraud regarding a PPP application; and,
- Devante Williams, 25, of Hinesville, charged with Wire Fraud regarding two applications for PPP loans.
The cases are being investigated by the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, the FBI, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Service Postal Inspection Service, and prosecuted for the United States by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
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
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.