Wenham man to plead guilty to COVID-19 pandemic relief fraud

Between April 2020 and September 2021, Cohen submitted six bogus applications for the Payroll Protection Program to the Small Business Administration and banks to obtain pandemic relief funds for businesses he controlled, the authorities said. prosecutors.

When Cohen filled out the applications, he falsely reported the businesses’ earnings, who they employed, or amounts paid to employees in the previous year, ultimately taking about $1.2 million in funds, according to the communicated.

Cohen is at least the third case of pandemic-related fraud announced this week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Another defendant in a pandemic fraud case in US District Court in Boston was sentenced to jail last week, while a third pleaded guilty, officials said.

On June 24, a New York man was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to wire fraud on March 15 in a case involving more than $300,000 in federal, Massachusetts and of Ohio, United States. the prosecutor’s office said in a statement at the time.

Ronald Buie, 35, was also ordered to pay $304,237 in restitution, officials said. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Buie submitted fraudulent applications to open bank and credit card accounts and to apply for federal loans from the Small Business Administration and Massachusetts and Ohio Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, prosecutors said. He used stolen or fabricated identities, including forged Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and W-2 tax forms, among other falsified documents, according to the statement.

He also submitted fraudulent documents to obtain a $60,000 loan from the Small Business Administration for his business, Platinum Car Service LLC, providing an alleged bank statement for the business showing a balance of over $198,000 while his balance was actually less than $3,000, prosecutors said.

Buie eventually collected more than $274,000 in federal loans and more than $70,000 in unemployment benefits from Massachusetts and Ohio, including a Small Business Administration loan of about $65,000 that officials were able to cancel, according to the statement. Authorities also seized $5,000 in cash from Buie’s home.

In a third case, the former owner of a Brighton massage parlor pleaded guilty on June 23 to two counts of making false statements on federal loan applications and was sentenced to jail – around two months – in a case involving just over $7,000 in federal funds, officials said.

Aticha Jittaphol, 33, of Brighton, did not disclose in his federal loan applications that his employees at Mantra Dhevi Spa in Brighton engaged in commercial sex acts with clients, prosecutors say.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Jittaphol applied for Economic Disaster Loans and Paycheck Protection Program Loans in March and April 2020 and “falsely stated that the Applicant was not engaged in any illegal activity” .

Jittaphol took a pay cut from its employees for sex acts, recruited new employees and lured customers into the business, actively promoting prostitution, prosecutors said.

But Jittaphol’s attorney said federal authorities filed fraud charges against her after investigators failed to find immigration violations at her massage parlor.

The attorney, Keith Halpern, said that when investigators determined that all of Jittaphol’s employees were legally in the United States, “it turned into a COVID investigation.” Halpern said some of the masseuses working for Jittaphol admitted to investigators that “if a client insisted, the massage would go below the waist.”

But he said his client applied for federal funds as a legitimate business owner and used the money to pay rent. He pointed to the relatively small amount Jittaphol was accused of taking — $7,066 — compared to defendants accused of stealing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

“We are in a situation where there are people accused of defrauding the government of millions of people, of creating fake companies for the purpose of defrauding the government in COVID scams,” he said. “This case was about $7,000 which was paid to the owner.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misrepresented the status of James Joseph Cohen’s plea in court. The Globe regrets the error.

Jeremy C. Fox can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.

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