Seattle – A 62-year-old Seattle man pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiring to defraud the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of $646,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Joseph M. Freeman used the names of two companies he registered to try to obtain forgivable Paycheck Protection Loans to protect the salaries of non-existent employees. After detecting the fraud, federal investigators froze approximately $220,000 that remained in Freeman’s bank account and returned it to the Small Business Administration. Freemen will be sentenced for the fraud conspiracy on May 16, 2023.
According to the plea agreement, in May 2020, Freeman and his coconspirators used information about a company he formed in 2004 to claim $500,000 in PPP funds. Freeman claimed Special Delivery LLC had 15 employees and a payroll of $200,000 per month, when in fact it had no employees other than Freeman. Freeman used fake Internal Revenue Forms to make it appear the company had employees and sought $500,000 in PPP funds. On May 20, 2020, the loan proceeds were wired to Freeman’s bank. After receiving the funds, Freeman created an account with a payroll service to disburse the funds to individuals who were not employees of the company.
On June 15, 2020, Freeman and his coconspirators submitted a second fake application. Freeman claimed New Jack Trucking LLC had 10 employees and a monthly payroll of $58,400. Freeman and his associates claimed the business had been in operation in February 2020 even though the entity never had any genuine business activity. The coconspirators used fake IRS forms and a falsified bank statement to make it appear New Jack Trucking had employees. On June 16, 2020, Freeman and his coconspirators obtained $146,000 for that fraudulent application.
Freeman supplied some of the loan proceeds to his coconspirators and used some of the funds for his own benefit. In July 2020, after federal investigators detected the fraud and notified Freeman’s bank, approximately $220,000 of the loan proceeds were frozen and returned to the Small Business Administration. The net loss from the scheme is $426,666.
Conspiracy to Commit Theft of Government Funds is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross monetary gain to the defendant or the gross monetary loss to the victims of the offense. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than two years in prison for Freeman.
This case was investigated by the U.S Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Cindy Chang.
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 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 via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.