Major COVID-19 fraud investigation results in charges in Augusta area
Half-dozen charged with fraud relating to fake businesses that sought federal funds
AUGUSTA, GA: Six individuals have been indicted on felony charges and nearly $400,000 seized in the Southern District of Georgia relating to the alleged submission of fraudulent loan applications for pandemic disaster relief funds.
In response to the devastating negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed into law in March 2020. The CARES Act authorized the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide and/or guarantee loans specifically designed to keep small businesses afloat during the unprecedented financial challenges brought on by the pandemic. Charges in the Augusta area announced today allege that individuals exploited these programs for their own financial gain and sought relief payments through a series of false and fraudulent representations regarding their businesses’ existence, gross revenue, and number of employees in order to receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and/or Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
According to the indictments, these individuals made false representations to the SBA and/or financial institutions about small businesses each purportedly owned in the Augusta area. The indictments allege that each of the defendants fraudulently obtained relief funds earmarked for small businesses that were suffering the negative economic impacts of the pandemic:
- Whitney Adwan Mack, 33, of Louisville, Ga., the alleged owner of four different businesses, is charged with wire fraud and misuse of a social security number for making false representations to the SBA regarding her businesses’ gross revenue, number of employees, and using a Social Security number that did not belong to her.
- Jada S. Nelson, 20, and Sonya Barnes, 41, both of Augusta, are charged with wire fraud and aiding and abetting for making false representations to the SBA regarding their businesses’ existence, gross revenue, and number of employees.
- Rose Mary Coleman, 57, of Augusta, is charged with wire fraud for making false representations to the SBA regarding her business’s gross revenue and number of employees.
- Orell Plummer, 41, of Augusta, is charged with wire fraud for making false representations to the SBA regarding the gross revenue and number of employees in his business.
- Darryl T. Williams, Sr., 52, of Augusta, is charged with wire fraud for making false representations to the SBA and to a financial lender regarding the gross revenue and number of employees of his businesses.
In addition, in a separate matter, the United States has filed a forfeiture complaint to recover $383,456.21 in funds that have been seized and are alleged to be the fruits of fraudulent SBA loan submissions.
“In the midst of the pandemic, millions of Americans were suffering devastating economic situations,” said United States Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “It’s unconscionable that some would seek to profit off of that devastation by creating fake businesses and fabricating financial information. This office will continue to devote significant resources to stopping those pandemic-profiteering fraudsters.”
“This nation’s citizens and businesses are counting on the U.S. Secret Service and its federal law enforcement, as well as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to safeguard it and maintain the public trust,” said Resident Agent in Charge Glen M. Kessler of the Secret Service Savannah Office. “These criminal cases brought today should serve as a strong deterrent to those considering exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to enrich themselves through fraud. These defendants took money that was earmarked for legitimate businesses that could have greatly benefitted from the funds supplied by the U.S. government but instead were used to enrich themselves. Tackling the threat of cyber-enabled COVID-19 scams requires an immediate response to safeguard our nation during these unprecedented times.”
“The pandemic has been a burden on so many Georgians,” said Vic Reynolds, Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “Defrauding the government of funds earmarked for hardworking business owners is inexcusable. The GBI is committed to working with our partners to investigate these crimes.”
Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
These cases are being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Social Security Administration, the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick J. Schwedler, J. Thomas Clarkson, Jonathan A. Porter, and Jennifer A. Stanley, and the seizure and forfeiture action was brought by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Asset Recovery Unit Chief Xavier A. Cunningham.