Nevada Woman Charged with COVID-Relief Fraud

A Nevada woman was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday with fraudulently seeking over $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada.   

Karen Chapon, aka Karen Hannafious, 50, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was charged by criminal complaint in the District of Nevada with one count of bank fraud and one count of making false statements to a financial institution.  The complaint alleges that, in support of her six fraudulent loan applications, Chapon made numerous false and misleading statements about her companies’ respective business operations and payroll expenses, and falsely denied that she had been convicted of a felony in the past five years.   

The complaint also alleges that, in further support of the fraudulent loan applications, Chapon submitted fake and altered documents, including fraudulent federal tax filings.  For example, Chapon misrepresented to a lender that, in 2019, her company Heavenly Tahoe Properties paid several million dollars in employee wages.  In support of Chapon’s loan application, she submitted a fraudulent IRS filing that appeared to be Heavenly Tahoe Properties’ 2019 Form 940 federal unemployment tax return showing that the company paid nearly $2.5 million in employee wages that year.  In reality, the IRS has no record of the company filing any 2019 tax returns, and publicly available records show that the company’s Nevada corporate registration is no longer valid.     

The government has executed seizure warrants recovering the majority of the nearly $600,000 in PPP loan proceeds that Chapon obtained in her alleged fraud, including more than $500,000 from the bank account of one of her companies and a Mercedes Benz SUV.      

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted March 29.  It is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP.  In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of one percent.  Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.  The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.

A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

This case was investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General.  Trial Attorney Blake Goebel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Oliva of the District of Nevada are prosecuting the case.

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 Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is taking steps to establish a new supply of high-purity depleted uranium (DU) to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile. DU for fabrication of weapons components must be in high-purity metal form. Producing DU metal generally involves first converting a byproduct of uranium enrichment, known as “tails,” into a salt “feedstock,” which is then converted into metal. (See figure.) To reestablish a supply of feedstock, NNSA plans to install conversion equipment in an existing facility at DOE's Portsmouth site in Ohio. DOE initially estimated costs of $12 million to $18 million to design and install the equipment, with operations beginning in fiscal year 2022. However, in March 2020, NNSA requested an increase in conversion capacity, and an updated proposal in July 2020 estimated costs of $38 million to $48 million and a slight delay to the start of operations. NNSA plans to convert the feedstock into DU metal using a commercial vendor at a cost of about $27 million annually. Conversion of a Byproduct of Uranium Enrichment into Metal NNSA is also taking steps to reestablish and modernize DU component manufacturing capabilities, but it risks delays that could affect the timelines of nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to officials. NNSA has reestablished processes for manufacturing some DU components but not for components made with a DU-niobium alloy, a material for which NNSA has no alternative. Thus, restarting the alloying process—a complicated, resource-intensive process that has not been done in over a decade—is NNSA's top priority for DU and presents a very high risk to timely supply of components for certain nuclear stockpile modernization programs, according to NNSA documents and officials. NNSA is also developing more efficient manufacturing technologies, in part because the current alloyed component process wastes a very high percentage of the materials and NNSA cannot recycle the waste. For its DU activities, NNSA has requested an increase in funding from about $61 million in fiscal year 2020 to about $131 million in fiscal year 2021. Until recently, NNSA had not managed DU activities as a coherent program in a manner fully consistent with NNSA program management policies. Since October 2019, however, NNSA has taken actions to improve program management. For example, NNSA has consolidated management and funding sources for DU activities under a new office and DU Modernization program with the goal of better coordinating across the nuclear security enterprise. Further, NNSA appointed two dedicated Federal Program Managers to gather and organize information for required program management and planning documents. High-purity DU is an important strategic material for ongoing and planned modernizations of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. However, according to NNSA estimates, NNSA has a very limited supply of DU feedstock, and its current supply of DU metal will be exhausted in the late 2020s. NNSA also does not have the full range of capabilities needed to manufacture DU into weapon components needed for modernizing the stockpile. GAO has previously reported that NNSA has experienced challenges in restarting some technical manufacturing processes. A Senate committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to examine NNSA's management of DU for nuclear stockpile modernization. GAO's report examines (1) the status of NNSA's efforts to obtain the necessary quantities of DU to meet stockpile modernization requirements; (2) the status of NNSA efforts to develop DU component manufacturing capabilities to meet stockpile modernization requirements; and (3) the extent to which NNSA is managing DU activities as a program, consistent with agency policy. GAO reviewed relevant agency documents; interviewed NNSA officials and contractor representatives; and conducted site visits at headquarters and at research, development, and production locations. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Colorado Tax Evader Sentenced to Prison for Fleeing to Avoid Previously Imposed Prison Sentence
    In Crime News
    Colorado tax defier Lawrence Martin Birk was sentenced to an additional 78 months in prison for failing to surrender to serve his previously imposed tax evasion prison sentence and for unlawfully possessing firearms, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • Social Security Disability: Information on Wait Times, Bankruptcies, and Deaths among Applicants Who Appealed Benefit Denials
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO found that most applicants for disability benefits who appealed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) initial disability determination from fiscal years 2008 through 2019 waited more than 1 year for a final decision on their claim. Median wait times reached 839 days for claims filed in fiscal year 2015, following an increase of applications during the Great Recession. Wait times have decreased since then as SSA made substantial progress in reducing the wait for a hearing before an administrative law judge prior to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Individuals who filed appeals of disability benefits decisions were older and had less education than the overall population of working-age adults. Among these disability applicants, wait times for a final decision did not significantly vary by age, sex, or education levels. GAO's analysis of available data from SSA and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) found that from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, about 48,000 individuals filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a final decision on their disability appeals. This represents about 1.3 percent of the approximately 3.6 million disability applicants who filed appeals during those years. The applicants who filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a disability appeals decision were disproportionately female, older, and had more than a high school education as compared to the total population of disability applicants who filed appeals. Bankruptcies among individuals who were awaiting decisions about disability appeals may have been unrelated to the applicant's claimed disability. GAO's analysis of SSA disability administrative data and death data found that of the approximately 9 million disability applicants who filed an appeal from fiscal year 2008 through 2019, 109,725 died prior to receiving a final decision on their appeal. This represents about 1.2 percent of the total number of disability applicants who filed an appeal during those years. The annual death rate of applicants awaiting a final disability decision has increased in recent years. From fiscal years 2011 through 2018, the annual death rate for applicants pursuing appeals increased from 0.52 percent to 0.72 percent. Applicants who filed their initial disability claim during years of peak wait times and appealed their initial decision died at a higher rate while awaiting a final decision than applicants who filed their initial claim in years with shorter wait times. Disability applicants awaiting a final decision about their appeal who were male died at higher rates than applicants who were female and those who were older died at higher rates than those who were younger. Death rates were largely similar across reported education levels. Deaths among individuals who were awaiting decisions about disability appeals may have been unrelated to the applicant's claimed disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two large disability benefit programs–Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As of December 2019, these programs provided benefits to approximately 12.3 million adults living with disabilities and their eligible dependents. A disability applicant who is dissatisfied with SSA's initial disability determination can appeal the decision to multiple escalating levels of review. From fiscal years 2008 through 2019, SSA received approximately 9 million appeals of initial DI or SSI decisions. GAO has previously reported that applicants who appeal a benefits denial can potentially wait years to receive a final decision, during which time an applicant's health or financial situation could deteriorate. Given the heightened risk of worsening medical and financial conditions for disability applicants, GAO was asked to examine the incidence of such events while applicants await a final decision on their disability claim. This report examines the status of disability applicants while they awaited a final benefits decision including 1) their total wait times across all levels of disability appeals within SSA, 2) their incidence of bankruptcy, and 3) their incidence of death. For wait times, bankruptcies, and deaths, GAO also examined variations across certain demographic characteristics of applicants. GAO obtained administrative data from SSA for all adult disability applicants from fiscal years 2008 through 2019 who filed an appeal to their initial disability determination. GAO used these data to calculate wait times across appeals levels, rates of approvals and denials, and appeals caseloads, and examined changes in these three areas over time. To describe the incidence of bankruptcy among individuals awaiting a disability appeals decision, GAO matched SSA disability data to AOUSC bankruptcy data for fiscal years 2014 through 2019. To describe the incidence of death among individuals awaiting a disability appeals decision, GAO matched the disability data to SSA's Death Master File. For all of these analyses, GAO also examined variations across demographic characteristics of applicants, including age, sex, and reported education level. GAO also reviewed relevant policies, federal laws and regulations, and agency publications, and interviewed agency officials. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or CurdaE@gao.gov.
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  • North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Violating Fair Housing Act and Threatening a Family Because of Their Race
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina to one count of criminal interference with the Fair Housing Act, for using threats of force against an African American family because of the family members’ race and because they were renting a dwelling.
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  • Employee of Government Contractor Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Kickback Charges
    In Crime News
    An employee of a government contractor pleaded guilty today to his involvement in a scheme to overbill a contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA) by approximately $1.25 million, and solicit and receive kickbacks from a subcontractor in exchange for providing that subcontractor valuable contract modifications.
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  • Visa and Plaid Abandon Merger After Antitrust Division’s Suit to Block
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    The Department of Justice announced today that Visa Inc. and Plaid Inc. have abandoned their planned $5.3 billion merger.
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    Federal courts are coordinating with state and local health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to obtain information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) to aid their response, recovery, and reopening efforts. Courts are regularly releasing orders to address operating status, public and employee safety, and other court business.
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  • Memphis Physicians Agree To Pay More Than $340,000 for Alleged Overbilling
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    Doctor Shoaib Qureshi, Doctor Imran Mirza, Memphis Primary Care Specialists, Lunceford Family Health Center, and Getwell Family Medicine agreed to pay $341,690 to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly charging Medicare for services rendered by nurse practitioners at the higher reimbursement rate for physician services, the Justice Department announced today.  
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  • Woman Charged in For-Profit Visa Fraud and Alien Smuggling Scheme
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    A Nevada woman was arrested today for her alleged role in a multi-year scheme to commit visa fraud and money laundering, and to illegally bring Chinese nationals into the United States for financial gain.
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  • New York Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to File False Returns
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    A resident of Newburgh, New York, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • Judge Rya Zobel to Receive 2020 Devitt Award
    In U.S Courts
    Senior U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel, who grew up in Nazi Germany and later became the first woman to serve as director of the Federal Judicial Center, is the recipient of the 2020 Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award.
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  • The Bank of Nova Scotia Agrees To Pay $60.4 Million in Connection with Commodities Price Manipulation Scheme
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    The Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), a Toronto, Canada-based global banking and financial services firm, has entered into a resolution with the Department of Justice to resolve criminal charges related to a price manipulation scheme involving thousands of episodes of unlawful trading activity by four traders in the precious metals futures contracts markets.
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  • Wisconsin-Based Nonprofit To Pay $1.9 Million To Settle Allegations Of False Claims And Kickbacks On Federal Contracts For Blind Workers
    In Crime News
    Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired Inc. (IBI) has agreed to pay the United States $1,938,684.09 to resolve allegations that IBI violated the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Act in connection with certain federal contracts set aside to employ blind workers, the Justice Department announced today. 
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  • Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Updates on Operation Legend at Press Conference in Kansas City, Missouri
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  • TSA Acquisitions: TSA Needs to Establish Metrics and Evaluate Third Party Testing Outcomes for Screening Technologies
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2013, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) introduced the concept of third party testing—having an independent testing entity verify that a security screening system meets certain requirements. The concept is that screening system vendors would take this additional step either prior to submitting their technologies to TSA or if their system failed TSA's test and evaluation process. The goal is for third party testing to reduce the time and resources that TSA spends on its own testing. However, since introduced, TSA has directed only three vendors that failed TSA tests to use third party testing, with varying outcomes. In two other cases, TSA supplemented its test capabilities by using third party testers to determine that systems installed at airports were working properly. TSA officials and industry representatives pointed to several reasons for third party testing's limited use since 2013, such as the cost to industry to use third party testers and TSA's reluctance to date to accept third party test data as an alternative to its own. Despite this, TSA officials told GAO they hope to use third party testing more in the future. For example, in recent announcements to evaluate and qualify new screening systems, TSA stated that it will require a system that fails TSA testing to go to a third party tester to address the identified issues (see figure). Example of Use of Third Party Testing When a System Experiences a Failure in TSA's Testing TSA set a goal in 2013 to increase screening technology testing efficiency. In addition, TSA reported to Congress in January 2020 that third party testing is a part of its efforts to increase supplier diversity and innovation. However, TSA has not established metrics to determine third party testing's contribution toward the goal of increasing efficiency. Further, GAO found no link between third party testing and supplier diversity and innovation. Some TSA officials and industry representatives also questioned third party testing's relevance to these efforts. Without metrics to measure and assess the extent to which third party testing increases testing efficiency, TSA will be unable to determine the value of this concept. Similarly, without assessing whether third party testing contributes to supplier diversity and innovation, TSA cannot know if third party testing activities are contributing to these goals as planned. TSA relies on technologies like imaging systems and explosives detection systems to screen passengers and baggage to prevent prohibited items from getting on board commercial aircraft. As part of its process of acquiring these systems and deploying them to airports, TSA tests the systems to ensure they meet requirements. The 2018 TSA Modernization Act contained a provision for GAO to review the third party testing program. GAO assessed the extent to which TSA (1) used third party testing, and (2) articulated its goals and developed metrics to measure the effects of third party testing. GAO reviewed TSA's strategic plans, acquisition guidance, program documentation, and testing policies. GAO interviewed officials from TSA's Test and Evaluation Division and acquisition programs, as well as representatives of vendors producing security screening systems and companies providing third party testing services. GAO is recommending that TSA develop metrics to measure the effects of third party testing on efficiency, assess its effects on efficiency, and assess whether third party testing contributes to supplier diversity and innovation. DHS concurred with GAO's three recommendations and has actions planned to address them. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or MakM@gao.gov.
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