The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced that a pastor was sentenced to prison for participating in a fraudulent scheme involving a fake employment agency and applications for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
MIAMI – Elie Floradin, 59, the self-described head pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Miami, Florida, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison for participating in a fraudulent scheme seeking more than $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Floradin caused an intermediary to repeatedly file false and fraudulent PPP applications, which sought federal COVID-19 assistance funds for companies that did not exist. Among these was a fake employment agency through which Floradin claimed to pay approximately $960,000 in yearly wages to dozens of employees when, in fact, no such business existed. After successfully receiving an initial PPP loan of approximately $200,000, Floradin caused the submission of three (3) more fraudulent PPP applications on behalf of his non-existent hiring agency, seeking approximately $600,000 in additional PPP loans—though these additional funds were denied.
Following Floradin’s guilty plea, however, the government learned of yet another prior fraudulent PPP loan, successfully filed on behalf of yet another corporate entity under Floradin’s name, causing the disbursement of approximately $336,000 in additional PPP funds to Floradin. At sentencing, Floradin admitted that he fraudulently applied for more than $1 million, and that he received more than half that amount, in fraudulently obtained COVID-19 assistance funds. In addition to his sentence of imprisonment, Floradin was ordered to pay back $535,996 in the form of restitution to the United States.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Morini Jr. of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), Southern Field Division, announced the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez.
TIGTA Southern Field Division investigated the case, along with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), Bureau of Financial Investigations (BFI), Miami Region. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eduardo Gardea Jr. prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annika Miranda and Peter Laserna are handling asset forfeiture.
In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act was enacted. It was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other sources of relief, the CARES Act’s PPP program allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%. PPP loan proceeds had to be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. The PPP allowed the interest and principal on the PPP loan to be forgiven if the business spent the loan proceeds on these expense items within a designated period of time after receiving the proceeds and used at least a certain percentage of the PPP loan proceeds on payroll expenses.
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.
On September 15, 2022, the Attorney General selected the Southern District of Florida’s U.S. Attorney’s Office to head one of three national COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force Teams. The Department of Justice established the Strike Force to enhance existing efforts to combat and prevent COVID-19 related financial fraud. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please click here.
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.