United States Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida, along with Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbit of the Department of Justice – Criminal Division, announced the charges made against a National Football League player who engaged in a huge conspiracy involving a fraudulent scheme that was designed to swindle the United States government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) out of around $24 million in bank loans.
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Defendant and Charges
Joshua J. Bellamy, 31, is a National Football League player for the Jets. On September 9, 2020, a federal criminal complaint has been filed against the NFL player, who currently faces charges of Bank fraud, Wire fraud, and Conspiracy or Attempt to Commit Wire and Bank Fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 1344, 1349, and 2.
Details of the Criminal Complaint
The criminal complaint alleges that the defendant has been participating in a fraudulent scheme with a goal to obtain millions of dollars in forgivable loans through the PPP, from on or about May 21, 2020, to at least on or about August 3, 2020. The defendant is said to have illegally obtained funds through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, submitting applications for his company, Drip Entertainment LLC. The lawsuit further alleges that the defendant wrongfully claimed that the businesses declared in the application files had numerous employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll expenses. The criminal complaint further attributes liability to the defendant for having submitted fraudulent loan applications to different banks through the Paycheck Protection Program of the United States government. The loan applications were said to contain falsified documents, containing erroneous details and information, misleading statements, and omission of particular elements regarding the respective business operations of the companies. It also was reported that the defendant submitted altered documents particularly, forged federal tax filings and falsified bank statements of the reported company. The purported forms submitted by the defendant wrongfully claimed that the Drip Entertainment LLC had a quarterly payroll of almost $1.5 million each quarter, approximated for 47 employees, which determined the $1,246,565 amount of the PPP loan request.
Through the illegally obtained PPP funds, the defendant was said to have purchased over $104,000 in luxury goods, including making purchases at Dior, Gucci, and other jewelers. The defendant is also accused of spending approximately $62,774 from the PPP loan proceeds at the Seminole Hard Rock and Casino, also withdrawing $302,000.
Conspiracy Scheme to Obtain Fraudulent PPP Loans
Apart from submitting his fraudulent applications for bank loans through the PPP, the criminal complaint also alleges that the defendant engaged in a huge conspiracy involving an elaborate fraudulent scheme targeting the Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan funds. On or about May 13, 2020, it was said that co-conspirator Phillip J. Augustin, along with another individual, worked together to submit different loan applications on behalf of different companies. The lawsuit further alleges that the conspirators in the scheme prepared at least 90 fraudulent applications, in total, to different lenders that have been approved by the United States Small Business Administration. The applications sent by the defendants showed that the conspirators in the scheme had filed the documents under several claimed businesses, seeking approximately $24 million of proceeds from the PPP. It was reported that about 42 of the 90 loan applications had been approved and funded, in which approximately $17.4 million have been received by the conspirators in the scheme.
The role of the defendant in the scheme was allegedly to refer additional confederates to the conspiracy, as well as draft falsified documents and fabricate documents for the applications. From this, the defendant received approximately 25% of the amount of loans as a kickback, shared between the said ‘leaders’ of the scheme and the defendant.
Besides Augustin, the defendant was also reported to have been involved with nine other defendants, whose cases have also recently been unsealed. The ten alleged co-conspirators of the defendant are as follows:
Phillip J. Augustin, 51 of Coral Springs, Florida, is one of the head co-conspirators of the scheme, has been charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, and obstruction, following the criminal complaint filed against him on July 28, 2020, from the Northern District of Ohio. Wyleia Nashon Williams, 44, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, has also been charged on the same day, in the Northern District of Ohio. Williams was charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud in a federal criminal complaint that is filed in line with the elaborate scheme where defendant Bellamy was one of the conspirators.
Three co-conspirators of the scheme have been found to originate from Florida, where federal criminal complaints have been filed against these defendants on August 3, 2020, in the Southern District of Florida. Keyaira Bostic, 31, of Pembroke Pines, Andre M. Clark, 46, of Miramar, and Damion O. Mckenzie, 38, of Miami Gardens currently faces the same charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, after being found to have been working to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program out of millions of dollars. The three have been linked to the current case of defendant Bellamy, where it is alleged that Bostic, Clark, and McKenzie have submitted applications for their own companies, and have recruited and referred other individuals to the head conspirators of the scheme. This allowed the three to receive kickbacks for each referral made, once the loan has been approved and funded for.
On June 8, 2020, two more of the conspirators have been charged with wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Abdul-Azeem Levy, 22, of Cleveland, Ohio, along with Deon D. Levy, 50, of Bedford, Ohio, was faced with a federal criminal complaint filed on June 8, 2020, in the Northern District of Ohio for trying to fraudulently obtain over $500,000 in PPP loans from the government, working with the rest of the team in a scheme that was designed to swindle the Paycheck Protection Program of the government out of millions in forgivable bank loans.
On June 24, 2020, additional two men, both from Florida, have received a federal criminal complaint after being tagged in the huge conspiracy scheme that targeted the PPP funds given by the U.S. government established to help American citizens survive through the economic crisis brought upon by the pandemic. James R. Stote, 54, of Hollywood, Florida, and Ross Charno, 46, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, faces charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, as stated in a criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of Ohio.
Tiara Walker, 37, of Miami Gardens, Florida, has also been linked to the conspiracy scheme to obtain fraudulent PPP loans, and have been charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud in a federal criminal complaint filed on September 3, 2020, in the Southern District of Florida.
Paycheck Protection Program
The Paycheck Protection Program allows individuals to obtain forgivable PPP loans through the submission of a signed application for the Paycheck Protection Program for qualifying business. The application forms shall be signed and represented by authorized personnel of the declared company. As a part of the $2.2 trillion funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Paycheck Protection Program has been put together. It is now being administered by the United States Small Business Administration as a source of relief. The CARES Act is a federal law that was enacted in March of 2020 that meant to be a relief – providing assistance and sustenance to small businesses, in order to sustain the nation through the major economic crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought. Up to $349 billion in forgivable loans has been authorized in accordance with the CARES Act. The $349 billion is available to small businesses, particularly for job retention, and other specific expenses. The program specifies that the proceeds from the PPP funds shall only be used in certain permissible expenses such as interests on mortgages, payroll costs, rent, and utilities. Interests and principal taken from the Paycheck Protection Program loan shall be entirely forgiven on the condition that the business is able to utilize 60% of the loan proceeds on payroll expenses and spend the loan on the aforementioned permissible expenses within a designated period of time. The qualifying small businesses are also allowed to acquire forgivable PPP loans with a maturity of two years and have an interest rate of only one percent. In addition to the $349 billion that was originally provided for the Paycheck Protection Program, $300 billion additional PPP funding was authorized by the Congress in April of 2020, securing over $649 billion funds for the Paycheck Protection Program.
Applications for PPP loans require specific, approved certifications including legal documents such as average monthly payroll expenses and declaration of a number of employees, as well as signed acknowledgement of the Paycheck Protection Program rules. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) manages and is heading the participating bank lenders in processing the PPP loan applications. The participating lenders, in turn, proceeds to review the applications, and subsequently fund the small business upon approval, providing bank loans using its own monies, which is fully guaranteed by the SBA.
Investigation and Prosecution
The successful investigation of the cases was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigations Cleveland and Miami Offices, by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Cincinnati and Miami Field Offices, and by the United States Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General. Department of Justice – Criminal Division Fraud Section Trial Attorney Philip Trout, and by Assistant United States Attorney David Turken for the Southern District of Florida. The case investigations were made in collaboration with Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Philadelphia Field Office, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations Atlanta and Philadelphia Field Offices, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio are in control of the prosecution of the case of defendant Bellamy.
Arrest and Court Appearances
Joshua J. Bellamy was arrested in the morning of September 10, 2020 and has appeared before the United States Magistrate Judge Christopher Tuite of the Middle District of Florida on the same day.
The arrests were announced by United States Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida and interim Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Department of Justice – Criminal Division, along with Special Agent in Charge Michael J. De Palma of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Miami Field Office, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Miami Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Kevin A. Kupperbusch of the United States Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General – Investigations Division, Eastern Regional Office.
The provided criminal documents provided in this article contain allegations that are not evidence of guilt. The public is reminded that the defendant shall be presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the state.
Contact Details for Additional Information
Individuals with additional information regarding any possible allegations of attempted fraud involving the Paycheck Protection Program, and the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act shall report to the National Center for Disaster Fraud of the Department of Justice by contacting them through their Hotline at (866)-720-5721, or through their NCDF Web Complaint Form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.