Two Florida men accused of stealing COVID-19 loan program
As the coronavirus plummeted the country’s economy, Congress passed a small business bailout totaling $ 650 billion in loans that would be canceled if borrowers followed the rules.
Two South Florida businessmen have lined up for the government bailout so many times with mock loan requests that federal officials are now accusing them of stealing more than $ 10 million from the child protection program. Small Business Administration paychecks for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June Ross Charno, 46, of Fort Lauderdale, and James Richard Stote, 54, of Hollywood were arrested on charges of bank and wire fraud in connection with an alleged conspiracy spanning South Florida in Ohio, according to a criminal complaint. Both were released on bail in federal court in Fort Lauderdale and are now awaiting their first appearance in federal court in Ohio, where they will be indicted by indictment.
Charno’s defense attorney Brian Bieber said the case against his client was in its early stages.
“He was offered an opportunity by others and stupidly got intimately involved,” Bieber told the Miami Herald on Wednesday. “We are still in the fact-gathering process and look forward to appearing in court virtually in the very near future. “
Stote, who is already serving probation for a third-degree felony conviction in state court, could not be reached for comment. No lawyer is listed as the representative on the court’s role.
According to an FBI criminal affidavit, Charno and Stote joined the alleged SBA loan racket this spring and collaborated with an anonymous businessman who is cooperating with investigators in the criminal case against them. This confidential witness has yet to be charged, but he was implicated with the two South Florida men in applying for at least 18 Paycheck Protection Program loans while disbursing them in the tens of thousands. dollars for their help in the program, the affidavit states.
“[The] the defendants obtained these PPP loans both for their own businesses and for other businesses, ”the FBI affidavit states. “When they got PPP loans for other companies, [they] expected to receive – and received – considerable bribes. To inflate the size of these PPP loans, and their corresponding bribes, [they] relied on a variety of misrepresentations, including submitting forged bank statements and tax forms.
In addition to helping the anonymous businessman obtain “fraudulent” PPP loans in Ohio, Charno and Stote are accused of obtaining other loans from the SBA emergency program for companies such as PM Autobody in Miami ($ 652,470), OMP Enterprises in Fort Lauderdale ($ 244,062) and USA Homes and Remodeling in Hollywood ($ 702,720), according to the affidavit.
The FBI case is based not only on fabricated bank statements and tax returns that appear identical in many loan applications, but also on recorded text messages, emails and phone calls between the confidential businessman. and South Florida businessmen. An undercover agent also interacted with Charno and Stote, the affidavit states.
“Stote and Charno have submitted numerous PPP loan applications, and the evidence suggests that many, if not all, of these requests are fraudulent,” FBI Special Agent Matthew Scalisi concluded in the affidavit.