by Douglas Ankney
On February 17, 2023, a former guard at the Federal Correctional Complex in Yazoo City, Mississippi, got a light sentence for defrauding the U.S. of $12,586 in loans she swindled from the COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). When she pled guilty to wire fraud on November 9, 2022, Tarshauna Thomas, then 34, faced up to 20 years in prison. Instead, she will serve just three years on probation – with no prison time at all – and pay $15,086 in restitution.
Thomas obtained the funds in two loans by claiming to be sole proprietor of a non-existent dog-breeding and dog-sitting service that she called Shauna’s Little Pooches. Once in her pocket, the money was spent on personal items. Thomas filed the fraudulent loan applications with businesses that provided PPP loans, including Fountainhead SPF and Capital Plus Financial. See: United States v. Thomas, USDC (S.D. Miss.), Case No. 3:22-cr-00086.
Thomas was not alone. Billions of dollars were pilfered from the COVID-19 relief fund. Where there is a will, there is a way, and criminals got creative. Social media influencer Danielle Miller, 32, was sentenced on September 7, 2023, to a five-year prison term for stealing the identities of 10 victims to fraudulently obtain $1.2 million in pandemic relief loans that she used to fund a lavish Miami lifestyle, attempting to build her Instagram “brand.” See: United States v. Miller, USDC (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:21-mj-05198.
Like her, many fraudsters used the social security numbers of dead people or federal prisoners to get checks. Frequently, federal loan applications were not compared to a Treasury Department database, resulting in improper payments. One report by AP News calculated that an astonishing $280 billion was stolen from COVID-19 relief funds.
In May 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, enabling the federal Department of Justice to work more closely with other agencies in enhanced efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The task force purportedly “bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors.”
Additional sources: Magee News, PBS News
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login