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Special to the News
Atlanta Field Office special agents are providing notice that although COVID-19 relief programs have ended, the pursuit of those who fraudulently obtained loans through those programs has not.
The Atlanta Field Office covers Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
As of April 30, IRS Criminal Investigation has investigated 106 tax and money laundering cases in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, totaling more than $134 million. The investigations cover a broad range of criminal activity, including fraudulently obtained loans and credits and payments meant for American workers, families, and businesses.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provided economic assistance to American workers, families, small businesses, and industries.
The Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program were two of the programs under the CARES Act that were designed to help businesses survive the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals took advantage of the programs intended to help businesses survive the economic crises caused by the pandemic,” said Lisa Fontanette, assistant special agent in charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office. “Numerous convictions over the last two years have proven that those who fraudulently received funds from the PPP and EIDL are enjoying their ill-gotten gains on borrowed time.”
On August 5, 2022, President Joe Biden signed bills H.R. 7334 and H.R. 7352 establishing a 10-year statute of limitations for PPP and EIDL fraud.
In 2022, the Justice Department announced the establishment of three strike force teams to enhance the department’s existing efforts to combat and prevent COVID-19-related fraud.
The Strike Force teams are comprised of prosecutors and agents from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with assistance from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery.
“Working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, those individuals and groups who thought they found an easy way to get money are discovering that they were greatly mistaken,” Fontanette said.
Those who have been indicted and sentenced for fraudulently obtaining loans from PPP and EIDL programs include the following:
- In November 2022, Jason Carl Pears of Fairhope was sentenced to 30 month’s imprisonment and ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution. After obtaining more than $1.2 million in PPP loan funds, Pears spent the fraud money on luxury goods and real estate.
- In December 2022, Jerrod Bellamy of Savannah, Georgia, was sentenced to 22 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay $223,807.14 in restitution after pleading guilty to conspiracy and filing a false tax return. Bellamy admitted that he provided false information in his personal tax return, fraudulently obtained a PPP loan, and conspired with others to fraudulently obtain PPP loans. He also received more than $50,000 in kickbacks for helping co-conspirators fraudulently obtain COVID-19 relief funding.
- On May 2, 2023, Michael Ansezell Tolliver of Monroe, Louisiana, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for laundering more than $1.1 million in PPP and EIDL funds. In addition, Tolliver was ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution.
- On May 22, 2023, Tiera R. Lands of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering after obtaining more than $1.1 million in PPP and EIDL funds under false pretenses.
- On June 15, 2022, a federal grand jury in Oxford, Mississippi, returned an indictment charging Columbus, Mississippi, residents Jabari Ogbanna Edwards and Antwann Richardson for fraudulently obtaining more than $2 million in PPP and EIDL funds on behalf of a defunct business called North Atlantic Security.
IRS-CI encourages the public to share information regarding known or suspected fraud attempts against any of the programs offered through the CARES Act. To report a suspected crime, taxpayers may visit IRS.gov.
IRS-CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft, and more.
IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, boasting a more than a 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.