Florida Man Arrested for $2.5 Million COVID-Relief Fraud

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

BOSTON – A former Massachusetts resident and owner of a Massachusetts-based painting company has been arrested and charged in connection with allegedly filing a fraudulent loan application to obtain $2.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Vinicius Santana, 34, of Boca Raton, Fla. and formerly of Revere, was charged with one count of wire fraud. Santana was arrested Monday evening at Miami International Airport. He appeared in federal court in Miami yesterday afternoon and will appear in Massachusetts at a later date.  

According to the charging documents, Santana owned Complete Home Care, LLC (CHC), a painting company in Massachusetts. In April 2020, Santana submitted four different PPP loan applications on behalf of CHC. The first three applications, in which Santana allegedly listed five employees and an average monthly payroll of between $10,000 and $18,000, were denied. In the fourth application for CHC, it is alleged that Santana falsely claimed to have 154 employees and an average monthly payroll of $1 million. On May 11, 2020, a bank issued Santana’s company a $2,500,000 loan based on the alleged false representations in the fourth application. 

After receiving the funds, it is alleged that Santana misused the loan proceeds to buy cars and invest in cryptocurrency.

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain approved expenses, through the PPP.

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The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the scheme, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; Stephen Donnelly, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Eastern Region, Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; Patricia Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, New York Region; and Ketty Larco-Ward, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Boston Division, made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin A. Saltzman and Mackenzie A. Queenin of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

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Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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