☷U S Attorney Announces Results of Multi Faceted Strategy to Combat Fraud Related to COVID 19
Federal Bureau of Investigation ( By Press Release office)
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U . S . Attorney Announces Results Of Multi - Faceted Strategy To Combat Fraud Related To COVID - 19 Tampa , FL – United States Attorney Roger B . Handberg announces the results achieved to date by the Middle District of Florida’s efforts to combat fraud related to COVID - 19 . Those efforts have included complementary actions by the Criminal , Asset Recovery , and Civil Divisions , along with federal , state , and local law enforcement agencies . “Throughout the pandemic , my office and our law - enforcement partners have used all available methods to combat fraud related to COVID - 19 , and we will continue to do so , ” stated U . S . Attorney Handberg . “After the United States instituted multiple programs to financially assist those most harmed by the pandemic , criminals sought to defraud those programs for personal enrichment at the expense of the taxpayers who funded these programs . We will continue to disrupt these fraud schemes , prosecute those who commit crimes , and return ill - gotten gains through our efforts . ”On the criminal - enforcement front , the United States Attorney’s Office and federal , state , and local law enforcement agencies joined together in March 2020 to form the Middle District of Florida COVID - 19 Fraud Task Force to identify , investigate , and prosecute fraud related to the ongoing COVID - 19 pandemic . Since its inception , the Task Force has prosecuted 28 defendants for fraud schemes designed to exploit federal programs created or expanded to address the COVID - 19 pandemic , including the Paycheck Protection Program ( “PPP” ) , Economic Injury Disaster Loans ( “EIDL” ) , Unemployment Insurance ( “UI” ) , and the Main Street Lending Program ( “MSLP” ) . These defendants collectively sought to defraud the United States of over $35 million . Eighteen of those defendants have already been found guilty , while prosecution remains pending against ten defendants . ( See chart for criminal case details . ) Further , the District’s Asset Recovery Division and federal seizing agencies have completed the forfeiture of more than $14 . 3 million of PPP , EIDL , and UI funds that were fraudulently obtained , depriving the fraudsters of their ill - gotten gains and recovering the proceeds for the victims . More than $8 . 5 million in additional pandemic fraud proceeds have been seized and are pending civil or criminal forfeiture . For example , in May 2020 , Don Cisternino obtained a $7 . 2 million PPP loan for a non - existent movie production company . Cisternino used almost $3 . 5 million of the PPP loan proceeds to buy a 12 , 579 square foot luxury home with seven bedrooms , 11 bathrooms , a four - car garage , theater room , resort - style pool and spa area , tennis courts , and a 5 - stall horse barn , on more than twelve acres , pictured below . The United States completed a civil forfeiture of the lavish home , selling it earlier this year for more than $4 million , which will be returned to the victim . Cisternino has been indicted in Orlando and was arraigned on April 29 , 2022 , after being successfully extradited from Croatia . The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance in securing Cisternino’s arrest and extradition . Similarly , in April 2020 , Casey Crowther obtained a $2 . 1 million PPP loan by falsely stating that he intended to use the money for his roofing company . However , Crowther quickly used the proceeds for personal purchases , including nearly $700 , 000 for a 40’ catamaran boat , pictured below . Crowther was convicted following a trial in Fort Myers , and in June 2021 , he was sentenced to over three years in federal prison and was ordered to forfeit the boat and over $3 million . The District’s Civil Division has similarly combatted fraud related to COVID - 19 through its enforcement efforts . For example , in the summer of 2020 , consumers complained about websites that were falsely claiming to sell personal protection equipment for the COVID - 19 virus . Agents from Homeland Security Investigations identified three men in Vietnam who were using hundreds of web pages to steal money from consumers seeking to purchase PPE . The Civil Division and the agents together halted the payments from U . S . purchasers and obtained a permanent restraining order blocking the websites from being hosted by a U . S . company . The men are now in custody in Vietnam and are facing criminal charges there . Further , as a result of the efforts of the Civil Division , a Tampa pain management practice , Physician Partners of America , and its affiliated companies , paid a $1 . 3 million penalty under the Financial Institutions Reform , Recovery , and Enforcement Act as part of a larger civil settlement , to resolve our claim that the defendants improperly applied for a PPP loan of over $5 . 9 million while engaged in unlawful Medicare overbilling . Similarly , in two recent bankruptcy proceedings handled by the Civil Division , debtors were required to return PPP loans totaling almost $2 million because the United States objected to their obtaining the loans while also seeking bankruptcy protections . The Attorney General has 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 . For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic , please visit https://www . justice . gov/coronavirus . Through the PPP , the federal government authorized over $600 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP . The EIDL program provides economic relief to small businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue . The MSLP provided support to small and medium - sized businesses and their employees across the United States during the COVID - 19 pandemic . UI programs provided unemployment benefits to eligible workers who became unemployed through no fault of their own . The criminal cases identified in the linked chart have been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation , United States Secret Service , Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation , Department of Labor—Office of Inspector General , U . S . Postal Service , Federal Housing Finance Agency , Small Business Administration , Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—Office of Inspector General , Bureau of Alcohol , Tobacco and Firearms , Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation , the Tampa Police Department , the Orlando Police Department , and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office . The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys throughout the Middle District of Florida . The Department of Justice needs the public’s assistance in remaining vigilant and reporting suspected fraudulent activity . To report suspected fraud , contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud ( NCDF ) at ( 866 ) 720 - 5721 or file an online complaint at: https://www . justice . gov/disaster - fraud/webform/ncdf - disaster - complaint - form . Complaints filed will be reviewed at the NCDF and referred to federal , state , local , or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for investigation . An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law , and every defendant is presumed innocent unless , and until , proven guilty . United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of FloridaCOVID Fraud CasesDefendant ( s ) ( Age ) Charge ( s ) Max . ImprisonmentType of Fraud*Intended LossAmountTampa DivisionRichard Simpkins ( 47 ) Conspiracy to commit bank fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsIllegal monetary transactionsMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsPPP$1 . 9MJoseph Abdo ( 39 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsIllegal monetary transactionsMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsPPP$500kJorge Gutierrez Echeverria ( 33 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsEIDL$150kSteve Moodie ( 33 ) Melinda Hernandez ( 33 ) Conspiracy to commit wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 5 YearsWire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsAggravated identity theftMaximum: Prison Term: Two Years ConsecutiveUI$550kThese COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division are being handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones , Greg Pizzo , Candace Rich , and Jennifer PeresieOrlando DivisionDon Cisternino ( 46 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsIllegal Monetary TransactionsMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsAggravated Identity TheftMaximum: Prison Term: Two Years ConsecutivePPP$7 . 2M Emmet Bowens ( 53 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsIllegal monetary transactionsMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsPPP$740kThese COVID Fraud cases from the Orlando Division are being handled by AUSAs Chauncey Bratt and Amanda DanielsFort Myers DivisionDaniel Joseph Tisone ( 34 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsBank fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsMoney launderingMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsAggravated Identity TheftMaximum Prison Term: 2 Years ConsecutivePossession of Ammunition by a Prohibited PersonMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsPPP/EIDL/MSLP$2 . 6MLiliana Gonzalez ( 31 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsPPP$169kThese COVID Fraud cases from the Fort Myers Division are being handled by AUSAs Trent Reichling and Shannon LaurieAdjudicated CasesTampa DivisionRolanda Wingfield ( 39 ) Access device fraudMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsAggravated identity theftMaximum: Prison Term: Two Years ConsecutiveUI$135k Keith Nicoletta ( 49 ) Conspiracy to commit money launderingMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsPPP$1 . 9MRandy Jones ( 34 ) Wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsAggravated identity theftMaximum: Prison Term: Two Years ConsecutiveEIDL/UI$250kRosenide Venant ( 37 ) Conspiracy to commit money launderingMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsEIDL/PPP$413k Julio Lugo ( 45 ) Conspiracy to commit money launderingMaximum Prison Term: 20 YearsEIDL/PPP$4 . 4MThese COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division are being handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones and Tiffany FieldsOrlando DivisionTomas Ziupsnys ( 39 ) Conspiracy to commit bank fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsBank fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsAggravated identity theftMaximum: Prison Term: Two Years ConsecutivePPP$2MHolly Urban ( 36 ) Conspiracy to commit bank fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsPPP$1 . 5MThese COVID Fraud cases from the Orlando Division are being handled by AUSA Emily ChangFort Myers DivisionAnthony Bruey ( 36 ) Amber Bruey ( 35 ) Conspiracy to commit wire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsWire fraudMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearsConspiracy to commit money launderingMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsIllegal monetary transactionsMaximum Prison Term: 10 YearsPPP/EIDL$881kEdrica Leann Watson ( 30 ) False statement to a lending institutionMaximum Prison Term: 30 YearPPP$392kThese COVID Fraud cases from the Fort Myers Division are being handled by AUSAs Trent Reichling and Jesus M . CasasSentenced CasesTampa DivisionLouis Thornton , III ( 63 ) Wire FraudSentence Imposed: 42 months in federal prisonEIDL/PPP$815kKary Stevenson ( 48 ) Corey Quinn ( 35 ) Conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theftSentence Imposed: 5 years , 10 months in federal prison ( Stevenson ) Sentence Imposed:7 years in federal prison ( Quinn ) UI$1MBridgitte Keim ( 52 ) Bank fraudSentence Imposed: 2 years in federal prisonPPP$588kWayne Ganaway ( 47 ) Conspiracy to commit wire fraudSentence Imposed: 4 years in federal prisonEIDL$300kThese COVID Fraud cases from the Tampa Division were handled by AUSAs Rachel Jones , Greg Pizzo , Tiffany Fields , and SAUSA Chris PoorOrlando DivisionJacquavius Smith ( 21 ) Possession of short - barreled rifle; felon in possession of firearm; and aggravated identity theftSentence Imposed: 7 years , 1 month in federal prisonPPP$10k Johnson Eustache ( 40 ) Wire fraudSentence Imposed: 5 years in federal prisonEIDL/PPP$2 . 2MJoseph Harrison ( 43 ) Conspiracy to commit wire fraudSentence Imposed: 12 months in federal prisonUI$2 . 1MThese COVID Fraud cases from the Orlando Division were handled by AUSAs John Gardella , Amanda Daniels , Chauncey Bratt , and Jennifer HarringtonFort Myers DivisionCasey Crowther ( 36 ) Bank fraud , false statement to a financial institution , illegal monetary transactionSentence Imposed: 3 years , 1 month in federal prisonPPP$2 . 7MThis COVID Fraud case from the Fort Myers Division was handled by AUSA Trent ReichlingTypes of Fraud*Economic Injury Disaster Loan ( EIDL ) Paycheck Protection Program ( PPP ) Unemployment Insurance ( UI ) Main Street Lending Program ( MSLP )
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