They got $ 1.4 million in coronavirus relief loans, but bought jewelry and cars, authorities say

Two residents of Camden County have fraudulently obtained federal Paycheck Protection Program (P3) loans and economic disaster loans (EIDL) totaling $ 1.4 million, federal prosecutors alleged Thursday.

Stephen Bennett, 45, of Berlin, New Jersey, and Rhonda Thomas, 36, of Sicklerville, have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, one count of bank fraud and a count of conspiracy to commit money. money laundering, according to a statement from the US Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey.

The PPP loans were part of the Federal Coronavirus Assistance, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which came into effect in March 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who were suffering of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The law also provides EIDLs of up to $ 2 million to eligible small businesses facing significant financial disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To get a PPP or EIDL loan, an eligible business must apply and provide information about its operations, such as number of employees, gross income, and cost of goods sold, and supporting documents may also be required, the company said. office.

Bennett, Thomas and other conspirators submitted 15 fraudulent PPP loan applications and six fraudulent EIDL loan applications to multiple lenders and the Small Business Association on behalf of 12 companies they said they owned, the statement said. The requests, including falsified documentation of federal tax returns and amended bank statements, the office alleged.

Social Security Administration records showed no wages or W-2 forms were processed for any of the companies they applied for between 2018 and 2020, federal prosecutors said.

Based on this false information provided by Bennett and Thomas, lenders approved 13 of the PPP and EIDL applications and provided companies with approximately $ 1.4 million in federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds, which they then used to purchase personal items, including vehicles and jewelry, the office said.

Bennett and Thomas were scheduled to appear by video conference Thursday before U.S. Justice of the Peace Karen M. Williams, officials said.

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Chris Sheldon can be reached at [email protected].

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