DETROIT – People who defrauded the government over COVID pandemic money have been using taxpayer money to buy cars, jewelry and more -- but the FBI says they won’t get away with it for long.
Now, the Detroit FBI office is working on dozens of active cases regarding pandemic fraud. For some, they filed fake claims. For example, the Paycheck Protection Program was supposed to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic. The program worked for many, but it was also abused.
Detroit man set up fake business
Detroit resident Darell Baker is described by his attorney as a devoted husband and father who made a terribly misguided bid to provide for his family. The feds said Baker treated the Paycheck Protection Program like his personal bank account by setting up a fake business called Motorcity Solar Energy.
Agents said Baker used two addresses for his fake businesses. One was a home on Stockwell Street in Detroit, and another was a building on Bagley Street in Detroit. He claimed he had 68 employees to pay and needed the government’s help during the pandemic.
His fake application was approved and he was able to obtain a 590,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan on behalf of Motorcity Solar Energy. Federal agents said Baker used the funds to purchase two Cadillac Escalades, a Dodge Charger and a Hummer. He also withdrew around $1,720 in cash.
“This is very frustrating because there are legitimate businesses that are in desperate need for money,” FBI Special Agent Christine Taylor said.
Baker was busted and sentenced to 24 months in prison.
UIA employee defrauded system
The fraud didn’t end there and the list of fraudsters is long. Brandi Hawkins was on that list
“She was actually hired to look at the very cases that she exploited,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said.
Hawkins was a contract employee for the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. It was her job to review, process, and verify claims. She was able to use her knowledge to bypass certain requirements in the system to authorize claims.
According to the FBI, the 40-year-old fraudulently disbursed about $3.8 million in federal and state funds. Investigators seized more than $200,000 in cash when they searched her home.
“So she could line her pockets with cash and buy luxury handbags at the detriment, as I said, to people who were really in need,” Ison said.
Hawkins was sentenced to 58 months in prison.
Couple caught after bragging on social media about big purchases
Micahia Taylor and Johnny Richardson were convicted after making social media posts bragging about cars and jewelry they purchased. Federal officials said they teamed up with Hawkins, resulting in at least $683,000 being fraudulently dispersed.
Richardson was sentenced to 97 months. Taylor was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
“We are coming for you and we will find you and once we do, we will hold you accountable,” Ison said.
Have a fraudster tip? If you have any tips about other COVID pandemic fraudsters you can reach Karen Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org.