A Phoenix woman who used her PPP loans to purchase luxury vehicles is now facing a five-year sentence in federal prison after her conviction on a fraud charge. While you can commit fraud against just about anyone, the federal government takes it personally when you defraud a pandemic relief program. In fact, there is a special provision under the law that enhances sentences by an extra ten years. Typically, the maximum sentence for wire or mail fraud is 20 years. When the fraud is committed against a disaster relief program, however, the penalty is potentially ten years longer. The sentencing guidelines for defrauding disaster relief programs are more severe than fraud committed against individuals or companies. In this case, the theft of just over $300,000 resulted in a 5-year sentence in federal prison.

The prosecution 

The defendant was accused of stealing around $400,000 in PPP loans and then using the money to buy a Dodge Challenger and a Mercedes. The woman had attempted to steal much more money than $400,000 but was caught midway through the process. She had applied for loans totaling an estimated $3.5 million.

Authorities claim that the woman falsified bank account information and employee information to apply for the loans. She was granted around $350,000 before the government caught the scheme. She ended up pleading guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Understanding PPP prosecutions 

It wasn’t until a full year after the PPP loans started that the federal government set up a fraud task force to prosecute instances of PPP theft. There have been hundreds of such charges filed against defendants in nearly every state. The allegations are generally similar. Individuals submitted false information to the government, including embellishing the number of employees on their payroll, in order to secure funds from the PPP program. The government disbursed the funds without checking the information, but then eventually got around to investigating which claims were fraudulent. Today, those prosecutions are moving forward with charges still being filed against defendants nearly a year after the anti-fraud legislation was passed. Defendants who were driving around in their Mercedes yesterday are suddenly facing charges filed by Homeland Security and the IRS criminal forensic division.

Can you accidentally be charged with fraud? 

The federal government can sometimes make a mistake and charge an individual with fraud after an honest error on an application. In these cases, it is possible to fight the charges. In other cases, the government will attempt to overcharge the individual as a deterrent to future fraudsters. In cases where an individual directly benefits from the fraud, it can be very difficult to beat the charges. However, individuals who didn’t benefit from the fraud are very difficult to charge with fraud. Prosecutors in these cases must establish that the defendant knowingly deceived the government for financial gain. Accidents do not count.

Talk to a Tampa Fraud Defense Lawyer Today 

Trombley & Hanes represent the interests of those charged with fraud in criminal cases or facing fraud allegations in civil lawsuits. Call our Tampa criminal lawyers today to schedule an appointment and we can begin discussing your options immediately.