By Kevin Deutsch
A Coral Springs man will serve federal prison time for leading a nationwide scheme to fraudulently obtain over $24 million in COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program loans—with the help of former National Football League wide receiver Joshua Bellamy, federal prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Phillip J. Augustin, 53, was sentenced this week to 6.5 years imprisonment by U.S. District Judge Pamela Barker in Cleveland, Ohio, where Augustin spearheaded the scam.
Barker also ordered Augustin to pay $5.9 million in restitution and forfeit $280,000 in funds previously seized from his bank account by the Department of Justice, records show.
According to the federal government, Augustin conspired to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent PPP loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, then collected kickbacks from people like Bellamy, who Augustin enlisted to help with the fraud.
Another of Augustin’s partners in the conspiracy, James Stote, 56, of Hollywood, Fla., was also sentenced this week and received a 10-year prison term.
After submitting an initial PPP application, accompanied by falsified documents, Augustin and Stote worked to obtain larger PPP loans for themselves and their associates, exploiting the government’s speedy approval process early in the pandemic, records show.
“They recruited additional PPP loan applicants and prepared and submitted fraudulent loan applications for them in exchange for a share of the loan proceeds,” according to a press release from DOJ. “The applications they submitted for all of the loans in the scheme relied on fake payroll numbers, falsified IRS forms, and phony bank statements. They submitted or facilitated at least 79 fraudulent loan applications worth at least $35 million and planned to submit more.”
Stote and Augustin both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud prior to their sentencing.
The government charged 17 additional people in Augustin’s conspiracy, which involved 90 applications for PPP money—all of it earmarked for helping small businesses and their employees survive the pandemic.
According to federal court filings, Augustin cast a wide net to recruit cohorts of his scheme. A number of his business contacts agreed to partake in the fraud, including Bellamy, the former New York Jets receiver who filed fraudulent PPP claims and sent Augustin kickbacks for orchestrating the scam, records show.
Bellamy, of St. Petersburg, Fla., was previously sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining over $1.2 million in PPP loans.
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.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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