ORLANDO, Fla. – A Florida man convicted of fraudulently collecting more than $1.3 million in COVID-19 relief funds has been sentenced to five years in prison.
Johnson Eustache, of Palm Bay, was sentenced Tuesday in Orlando federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. He must also forfeit approximately $700,000 seized from several bank accounts, as well as real properties in Palm Bay and Poinciana.
According to court documents, Eustache submitted 13 different fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program applications to the Small Business Administration and other lenders from March 2020 to April 2021. In total, he sought more than $2.1 million in pandemic-related emergency benefits, according to the documents.
Eustache included false statements in the applications regarding criminal history, number of employees and total payroll, prosecutors said.
Lenders approved four PPP loans and four EIDL loans, totaling more than $1.3 million, officials said. Eustache used the money to make personal financial investments, to purchase real estate and to build residential properties.
Beside the pandemic-relief fraud, Eustache, while working as a tax return preparer, filed 28 returns for taxpayers from 2017 to 2021 containing false adjustments, false income amounts or false deductions, investigators said. Eustache included these false items fraudulently to inflate the amount of the taxpayers’ refunds, and the total loss to the IRS was $87,044, officials said.
The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small-business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law in 2020.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.