Florida Blimp Executive Gets Five Years For Pandemic Relief Fraud
A Florida blimp executive was sentenced to five years in federal prison after defrauding the PPP coronavirus program of needed funds. According to the indictment, he stole nearly $8 million in funds earmarked to help average Americans during the pandemic. He will spend the next five and half years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
When it comes to disaster relief programs, the government can file enhanced charges related to fraud. In this case, the defendant was sentenced to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. He will be required to pay back the $7.8 million he reportedly stole.
Negligence versus malice
While some fraud cases involve perpetrators who don’t care about the impact their conduct has on others, other fraud cases involve individuals who are bumbling through a process they don’t fully understand. For just about everyone, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between negligence and malice.
In this case, the defense contended that the defendant was negligent, got into some financial trouble, and then tried to save his business by taking out PPP loans. However, the government issued those loans with restrictions. The loans were meant to be used to keep the business open and prevent the employees from filing for bankruptcy. The defendant claimed he intended to keep the business open.
The government countered this argument by stating that the defendant stole considerably more money than he needed to keep his employees solvent. In fact, that makes sense, because $7.8 million is a lot of money. So, that much money covers 7 employees making $1 million a year, 14 employees making $500k a year, 28 employees making $250 a year, and 56 employees who earn $125 a year. You could pay 112 employees the state median for an entire year with the amount of money that was stolen.
The sliding scale of negligent conduct becoming intentional conduct
At some point, the negligence becomes fraud. But the question then becomes: At what point? The answer is entirely math. The government will crunch the numbers, determine how much money it would take to keep your business open, and then if the amount you requested does not add up to the amount they have, an investigation will be launched. In this case, the defendant could not justify the extra disbursements and was charged with fraud. While he was able to claim that he was in a bad financial position, he just kept tapping the piggy bank for more. In most cases, defendants who are charged with fraud lied about how many employees they had to get PPP loans. The defendant lied on these applications to secure the funds. Ultimately, that’s all the government needs to prove fraud.
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The Matassini Law Firm represents the interests of those who are charged with white-collar crimes. Call our Tampa criminal lawyers today to schedule an appointment and we can begin discussing your defense immediately.