Florida Blimp Executive Gets 5 Years for COVID Relief Fraud
A federal judge has sentenced a Florida CEO to more than 5 years for defrauding the federal government of COVID-19 relief funds meant to help average Americans during the height of the pandemic. Federal authorities claim that Patrick Parker Walsh stole $7.8 million in funds through the Payroll Protection Program. The CEO of Airsign Airship Group was sentenced to 5 and a half years in federal prison followed by 3 years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and another count of money laundering in a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors. He is also required to pay back the $7.8 million in stolen pandemic relief funds.
The executive claimed he saw the funds as a way to save his business. Through his attorney, he claimed he made a series of bad choices related to defrauding the federal government by overinflating the number of employees his company had. This is among the most common forms of pandemic relief fraud. Those charged with pandemic relief fraud misrepresent the size of their company and the number of employees the company employs to get a larger loan from the federal government under the PPP (payroll protection program).
Prosecuting pandemic relief fraud
The government disbursed billions in loans during the height of the pandemic to help companies retain their employees and prevent broadscale bankruptcies from emerging through lack of business. Owners of the companies filed for forgivable PPP loans to help their employees remain solvent throughout the pandemic. However, some individuals abused the system by filing for loans for defunct companies or corporations that only existed on paper. In other cases, the companies inflated the number of employees that their company had to get a larger loan.
In the case mentioned above, federal prosecutors say that Walsh’s company was entitled to about $2 million in forgivable loans. However, the company applied for nearly $8 million. The extra $6 million, federal prosecutors say, was gained through fraudulent filings and misrepresentations made by the CEO.
The CEO pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges. Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. However, most individuals who are convicted of wire fraud are not sentenced to the statutory maximum. In this case, the defendant was able to negotiate a plea deal for 5 and a half years. Sentences for defrauding disaster relief programs tend to be longer than other forms of fraud.
The sentence could have been longer as the allegations against Walsh indicate that he used his wife’s identity to file for some of the loans without her knowledge or consent. The government could have charged him with identity theft on that basis, but the charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Talk to a Tampa, FL Federal Defense Attorney Today
The Matassini Law Firm represents the interests of those who are facing federal fraud charges. Call our Tampa criminal lawyers today to schedule an appointment and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.