Former Warren County Businessman Admits Fraudulently Obtaining $1.8 Million in COVID-19 Loans Meant for Small Businesses

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

NEWARK, N.J. – A Warren County, New Jersey, businessman today admitted fraudulently obtaining nearly $1.8 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced.

Rocco A. Malanga, 50, formerly of Hackettstown, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Julien X. Neals to an information charging him with one count of bank fraud and one count of money laundering.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

From April 2020 through August 2020, Malanga submitted false documentation to three lenders to fraudulently obtain approximately $1.8 million in federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds meant for distressed small businesses. He submitted at least three PPP loan applications on behalf of three different business entities in which he fabricated the number of employees employed by each business entity, as well as their average monthly payroll. Malanga then diverted some of the proceeds from the loans to fund a business that did not receive PPP loan funds. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP.  In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The PPP allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1 percent. Businesses must have used PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allowed the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spent the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and used at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.

The bank fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine; the money laundering charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.  Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 2, 2022.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger and Assistant Attorney General Polite credited special agents of IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Tammy L. Tomlins; postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Newark, under the direction of Inspector in Charge Damon Wood; special agents of the Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, under the Direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Stephen Donnelly; special agents of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Patricia Tarasca, New York Region; and special agents of the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Sharon MacDermott, with the investigation leading to the today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Blake Coppotelli of the District of New Jersey and Trial Attorney Della Sentilles of the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice.