SAVANNAH, GA: A Georgia man has been indicted on multiple charges alleging his involvement as the leader in a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funding.
Bernard Okojie, 40, of McDonough, Ga., is charged in a newly unsealed indictment with Conspiracy to Commit Wire and Bank Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Money Laundering Conspiracy, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The charges carry statutory penalties of up to 30 years in prison, along with up to $1 million in financial penalties and up to five years of supervised release after completion of any prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Congress provided funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act as a vital safety net for small businesses financially struggling during the global pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Sadly, the significant amount of available funding also attracted those who sought to tap into those funds from greed rather than need.”
As alleged in the indictment, Okojie is alleged to have used information for non-existent companies to file fraudulent applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) for himself and others from May 2020 through January of 2021, seeking millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds for himself and others. Okojie is alleged to have either received the funding directly, or was paid by other recipients of the fraudulently obtained funding for his work in submitting the EIDL applications. Okojie is further charged with conspiring to launder the fraudulent proceeds.
Okojie has appeared in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia for his initial appearance hearing, but will be prosecuted in the Southern District of Georgia.
Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan A. Porter and Patrick J. Schwedler.
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.