Sunday, December 04, 2022

3 charged with disaster relief fraud

Staff Report | July 31, 2022 4:45 PM

SPOKANE — A federal grand jury indicted three Eastern Washington residents - including a man from Moses Lake - last week for fraud in obtaining COVID-19 relief money, according to a Department of Justice press release.

“COVID-19 relief programs were designed to lift up our community during crisis, and due to the number of people and businesses that request funding, some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation,” said Vanessa Waldref, a U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

According to the press release, Stephanie and Stephen Murphy of Davenport have both been charged with nine counts for fraudulently obtaining loans under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP was designed to help businesses hard-hit by the closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by helping them pay wages for employees.

According to the indictment, the Murphies obtained three PPP loans for fictitious landscaping and wood products manufacturing businesses in 2021.

Also indicted last week was Dondre Jackson of Moses Lake for six counts of fraud in connection with two PPP loans for a fictitious catering business, the press release said.

In neither case did the businesses exist, the press release said, and the defendants submitted fake documents to obtain more than $100,000 in loans.

In February, Waldref assembled a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force consisting of agents from the SBA, FBI, U.S. Treasury, U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Veterans Affairs, the IRS and federal prosecutors to investigate and prosecute fraud in COVID-19 relief programs.

According to the press release, the fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison as well as repayment of fraudulently acquired funds.

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