By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN
A Houston man has been sentenced to nine years in prison for using the money he obtained from Covid-19 relief funds to buy cars, a watch and pay off a home loan, the Department of Justice said. Justice.
Lee Price III, 30, was convicted on Monday of wire fraud and money laundering for submitting bogus Paycheque Protection Program (PPP) Loan claims to two different lenders on behalf of three different companies, according to the Justice Department. Price pleaded guilty to the charges in September, the DOJ said.
PPP loans were introduced to help keep small businesses afloat and their employed workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The program ended on May 31, 2021.
Federal investigators have identified more than half a billion dollars in fraud and charged 474 people with crimes related to the theft of money under US Covid relief programs, the The Justice Department announced in March.
Through loan applications, Price attempted to raise over $ 2.6 million and successfully received over $ 1.6 million in PPP loan funds, the DOJ said.
He applied for and received two PPP loans one month apart and spent the allocated funds the same month, the Justice Department said.
“Mr. Price acknowledges that the heavy sentence imposed today by Judge Gilmore was triggered both by his fraudulent conduct in this P3 loan case and by the rather tattered criminal record he brought to the table,” Price’s attorney, Tom Berg, told CNN in a statement. “The court found that he had fully accepted his responsibility by pleading unconditionally guilty to the indictment.”
No payroll, no employees and “no easy money”
On the first loan application, Price applied for a $ 752,452 PPP loan for a construction company, on behalf of an Ohio resident who died even before the application’s filing date, according to court documents. In the same request, Price claimed the construction company employed 30 people and had an average monthly payroll of $ 300,981. However, there were no employees and no payroll, according to court documents.
To support the first fraudulent PPP loan application, Price submitted false tax records, according to the DOJ, and a bogus driver’s license, according to court documents.
Price electronically signed an additional form for the first PPP loan on May 3, 2020. Eighteen days later, he used $ 85,000 of the loan money to purchase a 2020 Ford F-350 from a car dealership. from the Houston area, according to court documents.
On the second loan application dated May 10, 2020, Price requested $ 937,500 on behalf of a second company and claimed it had 50 employees and an average monthly payroll of $ 375,000, but again, there were no employees or payroll, according to court documents.
The second request required Price to state whether he was facing any pending criminal charges, on probation or on parole, to which Price said no. Price lied, according to court documents, citing public documents showing he was facing felony charges of tampering with a government record in Harris County, Texas.
The second request was approved and Price electronically signed the funds on June 23, 2020. Three days later $ 14,343.13 was used to purchase a Rolex watch and the next day $ 233,337.60 was used to purchase a 2019 Lamborghini Urus, according to court documents.
Overall, the Department of Justice and law enforcement partners seized over $ 700,000 of the funds Price fraudulently obtained.
He must also give up the Lamborghini, Ford F-350 and the Rolex watch, court documents noted.
âMr. Price hopes others will learn from his estimate that there is no easy money,â Berg said. âHe has the remainder of the 110 month sentence to reflect, repent and rebuild his life. life poorly spent. “
Price has been in custody at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas, since his bail was revoked in August 2020 pending his designation by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to Berg. The judge recommended that he be housed at the federal correctional facility in Bastrop, Texas, he said.
On Monday, Price filed a notice of appeal in the case.
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