4 charged with Covid-19 fraud | USAO-AZ

PHOENIX, Arizona – Today the U.S. Attorney’s Office published a complaint against Celestine Coletta Strong, 44, of Phoenix, Arizona. Jawuan Polk, 35, of Portland, Oregon; Patrick Earl Lewis, 45, residence unknown; and Ty’zhaun Marqui Lewis, 23, of Phoenix, Arizona, on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering in connection with fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications.

“PPP loans have been vital to small business survival during the pandemic,” said US attorney Michael Bailey. “It is reprehensible that some people are using the program to fraudulently fill their own pockets instead of leaving the money to those who really need it.”

According to the complaint, Strong, Polk, P. Lewis and T. Lewis have developed a program to obtain fraudulent loans from the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a program designed to help small businesses meet their wage and salary obligations while Meet the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the complaint, the four conspired to submit loan applications containing falsified employee and wage information, falsified bank statements and other false information in order to obtain 15 different loans for total proceeds of more than $ 3.5 million. They fraudulently received approximately $ 450,000 in revenue before the program was suspended. Part of the proceeds were used to purchase a luxury Mercedes E400, which was also confiscated.

“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and our government and private sector partners are committed to protecting the American public from those who willingly try to defraud the government for financial reasons,” said Scott Brown, special envoy for the HSI Phoenix Office. “We will continue to use our broad legal authorities and longstanding partnerships to disrupt, investigate and bring to justice those who seek to exploit and benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration will aggressively pursue those who seek to defraud taxpayer-funded programs under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which were set up to provide assistance to American business owners in these unprecedented times,” said J. Russell George, Inspector General for Tax Administration. “We appreciate the efforts of the US Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in these efforts.”

U.S. attorney Michael Bailey and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich created the COVID-19 Fraud Task Force in April 2020, which leverages the resources and expertise of more than twenty different federal and state agencies to fight fraud programs in the In connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The above investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations with the assistance of the Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Inspector General’s Small Business Administration Office. The indictment is being handled by US assistant attorney Kevin M. Rapp.

A cable fraud conviction has a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison, a fine of $ 250,000, or both. A money laundering conviction has a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, a fine of $ 250,000, or both.

A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and not inferred as to the guilt. A person is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that clearly establishes the guilt.


CASE NUMBERS: 2: 20-mj-05300-DMF
RELEASE NUMBER: 2020-112_PPP credit fraud

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