Oakland Woman Sentenced To Three Years In Million Dollar Pandemic Relief Fraud

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

OAKLAND – A federal court sentenced Christina Burden today to 36 months in prison following her guilty pleas to two counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds; U.S. Department of the Treasury, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) Special Agent in Charge Rod Ammari; Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson; and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.  The sentence was handed down by United States District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.    

Christina Burden, 32, of Oakland, was originally charged on February 3, 2021, in a federal complaint alleging bank fraud in obtaining pandemic relief funds from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) for her shell entity “Blessing Box Co LLC.”  This entity was among multiple shell entities, including the “Burden Consulting Group LLC,” that Burden used in her fraud scheme.  As outlined in the complaint, the PPP is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  The CARES Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in March of 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering from dire economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  PPP loan proceeds were distributed to faltering businesses for limited, identified business expenses such as payroll costs, mortgage interest, rents, and utilities. The PPP allowed the interest and principal on a PPP loan to be entirely forgiven if the business spent the loan proceeds on permissible business expenses and used at least 60% of the PPP loan proceeds on payroll expenses.  Similarly, the EIDL Program provided low-interest loans to small businesses in regions affected by disasters, and EIDL funds became available to all states and territories due to the magnitude and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

In her plea agreement, Burden admitted she registered multiple fictitious businesses with the California Secretary of State, then modified documents by inserting incorrect dates relating to the purported business operations in order to qualify the fictitious businesses for loans from the PPP or EIDL programs.  Along with her fraudulent applications to the relief programs, Burden submitted fake IRS tax documents, such as fake IRS Form 940 and IRS W-3 forms.  The IRS tax documents contained false statements about the number of business employees, payroll costs, and wages paid, among other false statements.  Burden admitted in her plea agreement she was aware that the availability and amount of PPP and EIDL loans was tied to the creation and operational dates of the businesses, the employee numbers, and the payroll costs, and that she intentionally misrepresented all of that information.  In total, Burden fraudulently claimed she had 89 employees and a monthly payroll of more than $700,000 in her fictitious businesses, according to government documentation.

In total, Burden attempted to obtain more than $4.5 million in pandemic relief loans.  She admitted that she actually received $992,291 in fraudulent-obtained PPP loans and $150,900 in fraudulently obtained EIDL loans and advances.

After receiving the fraudulently obtained loan proceeds, Burden used the money for a buying spree of high-end luxury items and services.  In a brief filed for the sentencing hearing, the government outlined that Burden spent $184,000 on private jet travel, other airfare, and hotel expenses; $124,000 on luxury purchases from Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom; $16,000 on boat and car rentals; and $14,000 on restaurants and entertainment.  Another $150,000 was spent on Mercedes, Land Rover, and Nissan automobiles.

In addition to the 36 month prison sentence imposed for bank fraud and money laundering, United States District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered that Burden pay restitution in the amount of $1,143,191.  The sentence also included a three year period of supervision following Burden’s release from prison.  Burden was ordered to surrender into custody to begin her sentence on April 7.

Abraham Fine is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Kay Konopaske and Laurie Worthen.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by TIGTA, IRS-CI, the FBI, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of the Inspector General (SBA-OIG).