Federal government spotlights Miami as COVID-19 financial fraud capital
A year ago, Congress agreed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on employee benefits for small businesses and employees devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Of course, government handouts have helped the struggling economy. But it also opened the door for a menagerie of crooks to steal the federal get-rich-quick scheme.
Among them: a South Florida man who allegedly bought a Lamborghini for $ 318,000 with millions in COVID-19 relief loans; a Broward County tax preparer who allegedly pocketed huge commissions for filing bogus business loan applications worth $ 28 million; and a former Miami NFL player accused of stealing people’s identities to collect $ 300,000 in unemployment insurance benefits.
As the nation’s No.1 fraud capital, South Florida led the wave of financial crime that followed the passage of the CARES Act, a group of federal law enforcement officials acknowledged on Friday. . They highlighted dozens of new and old criminal cases related to COVID-19 to draw attention to the escalating problem. In the past year, federal prosecutors in South Florida have filed 38 criminal cases with $ 75 million in fraudulent requests for COVID-19 help – the highest number of any region in the country.
US lawyer Ariana Fajardo Orshan has lamented the region’s questionable reputation while condemning criminals who steal the taxpayer-funded relief program at the expense of legitimate businesses and employees desperately trying to stay afloat.
“It’s very sad when you have so many Americans in this country starving to death from the pandemic,” Fajardo said during a press conference live at the US attorney’s office in Miami. “Leave the money to those who need it. “
Fajardo – flanked by regional officials from the FBI, IRS, US Postal Inspection Service and other federal agencies – focused on three major programs that were exploited in the wake of the passage of the CARES Act l ‘last year. They are known as Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Unemployment Insurance.
Here is a trio of new cases cited by authorities:
▪ Wally Dorlus, 41, a Margate tax preparer and two other South Florida men charged with conspiracy to obtain fraudulent PPP loans from the Small Business Administration using falsified employee, salary information and taxes. According to a criminal complaint, Dorlus received hefty kickbacks in return for filing more than 167 fraudulent PPP loan applications worth $ 28 million. Of these, 33 loans were approved by banks and funded with $ 5.5 million guaranteed by the SBA.
▪ Kenbrell Armod Thompkins, 32, a former NFL wide receiver who played at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, is accused of stealing the identities of numerous Florida residents to obtain fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits totaling $ 300,000 of the State of California. This state distributed the unemployment benefit funds in the form of debit cards, which were then mailed to addresses associated with Thompkins in Miami and Aventura. Thompkins is accused of withdrawing most of the funds on debit cards at Miami-Dade ATMs.
▪ Kimberly Cleare, 53, of Miami Gardens, is accused of submitting at least 13 nearly identical EIDL applications to the Small Business Administration for herself and others.
Although South Florida was the focus of Friday’s press conference, an IRS official said the agency is working on 350 criminal cases and is opening nationwide investigations that involve an estimated 440 million. dollars in COVID-19 relief claims filed “fraudulently by greedy criminals”. Tyler R. Hatcher, acting special agent in the Miami IRS Criminal Investigations Division, estimated that half of those bogus loan applications – $ 220 million – were paid, a significant loss for taxpayers. Hatcher said the IRS hopes to get some of that money back.
Despite efforts by banks to review applicants’ COVID-19 loan applications, some bogus claims are slipping because bankers fail to verify taxpayer history of illegitimate businesses and employees. The root of the problem is that the government, which guarantees the loans as long as they are used for payroll, rent, and other legitimate expenses, kicked out the relief money as quickly as possible to revive the faltering economy.
“Yes, it’s not a perfect system,” said Fajardo, who resigned her post as a US lawyer in South Florida on Friday as part of a routine transition during a change of presidency last fall. “There is no such thing as a perfect system.”
This story was originally published March 26, 2021 5:26 pm.