Seven Charged in Connection with a $2.1 Million Money Laundering Scheme that Involved Money from the Paycheck Protection Program

Seven individuals were charged in an indictment in the District of South Carolina with laundering over $750,000 of fraudulently obtained funds, including over $390,000 obtained from a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. The seven individuals used a variety of methods to launder the money, including laundering the money through a casino. The indictment also identifies over $2.1 million in funds from twelve different bank accounts allegedly associated with the fraud scheme as subject to forfeiture which agents seized.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Peter M. McCoy Jr. of the District of South Carolina; Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris of the FBI’s Columbia Field Office; Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, and Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kupperbusch of the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General (SBA OIG) Eastern Region made the announcement.

Lauren Marcel Duhart, 34 of Stonecrest, Georgia, Joshua Bernard Smith, 39 of McDonough, Georgia, Steve Ronald Lewis, 43 of Snellville, Georgia, Christopher J. Agard, 41 of Marietta, Georgia, Henry Duffield, 58 of Belton, South Carolina, Jeremy Brandon Latourneau, 43 of Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Derick Keane, 43 of Spartanburg, South Carolina, were charged in an indictment filed in the District of South Carolina with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Duhart, Smith, and Agard were arrested this morning and appeared this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald of the District of South Carolina. 

In May 2020, Agard submitted a fraudulent PPP loan application for his business, Wild Stylz Entertainment, LLC,  to a financial institution.  In support of the application, Agard submitted fraudulent supporting documents that made numerous false and misleading statements about Wild Stylz’s number of employees and payroll expenses.  The financial institution approved and funded a loan of over $395,000.  Agard disseminated the fraudulently obtained funds to other members of the conspiracy to conceal the true nature of their fraudulently obtained funds.  On May 27, 2020, Agard made $200,000 counter withdrawal at a bank branch.  On May 28, 2020, Agard withdrew $50,000 in cash and made a $96,000 counter withdrawal.  In June 2020, Duhart, Smith, and Lewis requested that Hunt provide Duhart, Smith, and Lewis with bank accounts in which to deposit fraudulently obtained PPP funds.  Hunt had previously participated in drug trafficking and financial fraud with two South Carolina business owners. The two South Carolina business owners agreed to let Lewis use their business bank accounts in return for a percentage of the fraudulent funds deposited in their account. Hunt provided the two South Carolina business owner’s banking information and additional account access information to Lewis.  During multiple recorded calls in early June 2020 Duhart, Lewis, Smith, and Hunt discussed the bank and wire fraud conspiracies. In one call, Lewis informed Hunt that the scheme involved fraudulent bank applications and that they needed to submit as many applications to the bank as possible by June 30th.

The indictment alleges that Agard also utilized his business, Wild Stylz, to launder the proceeds of other fraud schemes.  In October of 2019, Lewis recruited Duffield to participate in a fraud scheme.  As part of the scheme, Duffield allowed Agard to transfer $378,000 of fraud proceeds from the Wild Stylz business account to be deposited into Duffield’s business account in return for a portion of the proceeds. After the proceeds were deposited, Roosevelt Hunt (who has pled guilty to related charges), Latourneau, and Keane withdrew the funds from Duffield’s account by depositing checks totaling $200,000 at a casino. After gambling for less than two hours, Hunt, Keane, and Latourneau cashed out from the casino and left with approximately $198,750 in cash. Lewis met with Hunt to retrieve the cash which had been withdrawn from Duffield’s account. Lewis delivered a portion of the cash he picked up from Hunt to Duhart. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted March 29, 2020.  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.

An indictment 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, DEA, and the SBA OIG.  Trial Attorney Siji Moore of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sloan P. Ellis and Brandi B. Hinton of the District of South Carolina 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 United States has filed a False Claims Act complaint against Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. and Teva Neuroscience Inc. (Teva), alleging that they illegally paid the Medicare co-pays for their multiple sclerosis (MS) product, Copaxone, through purportedly independent foundations that the companies used as conduits in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • Annual Greening Diplomacy Initiative Award Winners
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Justice News
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  • Final Member of Violent Baltimore “Trained to Go” Gang Sentenced to More Than 11 Years in Federal Prison for Racketeering and Drug Conspiracies
    In Crime News
    A Baltimore, Maryland, man was sentenced today to 138 montjhs in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release for federal charges of conspiring to participate in a violent racketeering enterprise known as Trained To Go (TTG), and for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. 
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  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Father & Son Moving & Storage in Billerica, Massachusetts, for Unlawfully Auctioning Off Belongings of Deployed Servicemember
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts alleging that PRTaylor Enterprises LLC, a company doing business as Father & Son Moving & Storage (Father & Son), violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by failing to obtain a court order before auctioning off the entire contents of a U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant’s two storage units while he was deployed overseas.
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    In Justice News
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  • North Carolina Tax Preparer Charged with Conspiracy to Defraud the IRS and Aggravated Identity Theft
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Durham, North Carolina, returned an indictment yesterday charging a tax preparer with conspiring to defraud the United States, preparing false tax returns, filing a false personal tax return, and committing aggravated identity theft, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin for the Middle District of North Carolina.
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  • Escort Sentenced to Prison for Underreporting Income
    In Crime News
    A Florida man was sentenced today to 21 months in prison for filing a false tax return. Jami Kopacz, of Fort Lauderdale, pleaded guilty to filing a false corporate tax return on Dec. 16, 2020. According to court documents and statements made in court, Kopacz worked as a paid escort for clients across the United States. Kopacz received payments directly from his escort clients, and from a private business for whom he worked as an independent contractor. From 2015 to 2018, Kopacz used his corporation, JK Training LLC, to receive income, and then filed false corporate tax returns (Forms 1120S) that substantially underreported the company’s gross receipts and total income.
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  • Justice Department Requires Divestiture In Order For Anheuser-Busch To Acquire Craft Brew Alliance
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it is requiring Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV (ABI), its wholly-owned subsidiary Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC (AB Companies), and Craft Brew Alliance Inc. (CBA) to divest CBA’s entire Kona brand business in the state of Hawaii and to license to the acquirer the Kona brand in Hawaii in order for AB Companies, a minority shareholder in CBA, to proceed with its proposed acquisition of the remaining shares of CBA.  The department has approved PV Brewing Partners, LLC as the acquirer.  The proposed settlement will maintain competition in the beer industry in Hawaii benefitting consumers.
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  • Neurosurgeon and Two Affiliated Companies Agree to Pay $4.4 Million to Settle Healthcare Fraud Allegations
    In Crime News
    Neurosurgeon Wilson Asfora, M.D. of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and two medical device distributorships that he owns, Medical Designs LLC and Sicage LLC, have agreed to pay $4.4 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations relating to illegal payments to Asfora to induce the use of certain medical devices, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, as well as claims for medically unnecessary surgeries.
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  • Supreme Court Fellows Set to Begin New Term
    In U.S Courts
    Four new Supreme Court Fellows are set to begin their 2020-2021 fellowships in September working virtually, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Fair Lending: CFPB Needs to Assess the Impact of Recent Changes to Its Fair Lending Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In January 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a reorganization of its fair lending activities that moved its Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (Fair Lending Office) from the Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division to the Office of the Director and reallocated certain of its responsibilities (see figure). As CFPB planned and implemented the reorganization, it did not substantially incorporate key practices for agency reform efforts GAO identified in prior work—such as using employee input for planning or monitoring implementation progress and outcomes. GAO identified challenges related to the reorganization (including loss of fair lending expertise and specialized data analysts) that may have contributed to a decline in enforcement activity in 2018. However, CFPB has not assessed how well the reorganization met its goals or how it affected fair lending supervision and enforcement efforts. Collecting and analyzing information on reorganization outcomes would help CFPB determine the impact of the changes and identify actions needed to address any related challenges or unintended consequences. Key Changes in Fair Lending Responsibilities under CFPB's 2018 Reorganization As of February 2019, CFPB stopped reporting on performance goals and measures specific to fair lending supervision and enforcement—such as the number of completed examinations and the percentage of enforcement cases successfully resolved. Without these goals and measures, CFPB is limited in its ability to assess and communicate progress on its fair lending supervision and enforcement efforts, key components of CFPB's mission. CFPB has used additional Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data that some lenders have had to report since 2018 to support supervisory and enforcement activities and fair lending analyses. CFPB incorporated these new loan-level data into efforts to identify and prioritize fair lending risks and support fair lending examinations. For example, the new data points improve CFPB's ability to compare how different institutions price loans, which helps its staff identify potentially discriminatory lending practices. Why GAO Did This Study Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, CFPB is responsible for two federal fair lending laws that protect consumers from discrimination: the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. In January 2019, CFPB completed a reorganization of its fair lending activities. GAO was asked to review issues related to CFPB's oversight and enforcement of fair lending laws. This report examines how CFPB has (1) managed the reorganization of its fair lending activities, (2) monitored and reported on its fair lending performance, and (3) used Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data to support its fair lending activities. GAO reviewed CFPB documents related to its fair lending activities (such as strategic and performance reports, policies and procedures) and to the reorganization of its Fair Lending Office. GAO evaluated implementation of this reorganization against relevant key practices identified in GAO-18-427. GAO also interviewed CFPB staff.
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  • Lead Paint in Housing: Key Considerations for Adopting Stricter Lead Evaluation Methods in HUD’s Voucher Program
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO found that the Housing Choice Voucher program had 1.1 million voucher holders living in units built before 1978, the year the U.S. banned lead paint in housing. Of these units, roughly 171,000 were occupied by approximately 229,000 young children (under age 6)––putting these children at an increased risk of lead exposure. The voucher program requires visual assessments for identifying deteriorated paint, with no testing of paint or dust. Any change to stricter evaluation methods would need to consider that certain states have a larger portion of pre-1978 voucher units occupied by families with young children. Estimated costs for adopting stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program would vary substantially depending on the method used and what units were included (see figure). Estimated initial costs range from about $60 million for a less expensive method applied only to units with young children to about $880 million for a more expensive method applied to all pre-1978 units. These estimated costs range from 3 percent to 41 percent, respectively, of the fiscal year 2021 budget dedicated to public housing agencies' administrative expenses for the voucher program. Total costs would also depend on the mobility of voucher households and the frequency of any additional lead evaluations. Total Estimated Cost to Change the Lead Evaluation Methods for Housing Choice Voucher Units Would Vary by Evaluation Method Used and Units Included Note: A combination evaluation includes all components of a lead inspection and a risk assessment. Estimated costs may vary by up to plus or minus 14 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. GAO analysis estimated that nearly 6,000 lead professionals can conduct lead evaluations in the U.S. While there is no indication of a national shortage of lead professionals, areas with high numbers of pre-1978 voucher units and low numbers of lead professionals may face implementation challenges. Selected cities offer observations from their implementation of a change in lead evaluation method. For example, education of landlords can help clarify new evaluation requirements and encourage landlords to continue to rent to voucher holders. Further, implementing a new method in phases could target areas with the greatest need and help landlords and the industry adapt to the new requirement and the increased demand for lead evaluations. Why GAO Did This Study Exposure to lead paint, which was used in housing built before 1978, can have serious health effects, especially for young children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has primary responsibility for identifying lead paint hazards in housing receiving HUD assistance, including private rental units in the voucher program. Some members of Congress have raised questions about whether the voucher program should change from visual assessments to a stricter lead evaluation method. The 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Joint Explanatory Statement, includes a provision for GAO to review HUD's efforts to address lead paint hazards. This report identifies considerations for policymakers related to changing to stricter lead evaluation methods for the voucher program, specifically regarding the (1) number and characteristics of voucher housing units and their occupants, (2) costs for lead evaluations based on method used and units included, (3) availability of lead professionals, and (4) observations from selected cities that use lead evaluation methods stricter than visual assessments. GAO analyzed HUD data on the voucher program (as of year-end 2019, the most recent available) and information on lead professionals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states. GAO also conducted a nationwide, generalizable survey of lead professionals to estimate the costs of lead evaluation methods. In addition, GAO interviewed staff from HUD, EPA, and public housing agencies, and representatives from two national organizations that represent lead professionals. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • Financial Audit: IRS’s FY 2020 and FY 2019 Financial Statements
    In U.S GAO News
    In GAO's opinion, the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) fiscal years 2020 and 2019 financial statements are fairly presented in all material respects, and although certain controls could be improved, IRS maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting as of September 30, 2020. GAO's tests of IRS's compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements detected no reportable instances of noncompliance in fiscal year 2020. Limitations in the financial systems IRS uses to account for federal taxes receivable and other unpaid assessment balances, as well as other control deficiencies that led to errors in taxpayer accounts, continued to exist during fiscal year 2020.These control deficiencies affect IRS's ability to produce reliable financial statements without using significant compensating procedures. In addition, unresolved information system control deficiencies from prior audits, along with application and general control deficiencies that GAO identified in IRS's information systems in fiscal year 2020, placed IRS systems and financial and taxpayer data at risk of inappropriate and undetected use, modification, or disclosure. IRS continues to take steps to improve internal controls in these areas. However, the remaining deficiencies are significant enough to merit the attention of those charged with governance of IRS and therefore represent continuing significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting related to (1) unpaid assessments and (2) financial reporting systems. Continued management attention is essential to fully addressing these significant deficiencies. The CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws contained a number of tax relief provisions to address financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Economic Impact Payments provisions in the CARES Act provided for direct payments for eligible individuals to be implemented through the tax code. Implementing the provisions related to these Economic Impact Payment required extensive IRS work, and resulted in it issuing approximately $275 billion in payments as of September 30, 2020. IRS faced difficulties in issuing these payments as rapidly as possible, such as in identifying eligible recipients, preventing improper payments, and combating fraud based on identity theft. IRS discusses the challenges in carrying out its responsibilities under the CARES Act in its unaudited Management's Discussion and Analysis, which is included with the financial statements. As part of monitoring and oversight of the federal government's efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO has issued a number of reports on federal agencies' implementation of the CARES Act and other COVID-19 pandemic relief laws, including reports providing information on, and recommendations to strengthen, IRS's implementation of the tax-related provisions. In accordance with the authority conferred by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, as amended, GAO annually audits IRS's financial statements to determine whether (1) the financial statements are fairly presented and (2) IRS management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting. GAO also tests IRS's compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements. IRS's tax collection activities are significant to overall federal receipts, and the effectiveness of its financial management is of substantial interest to Congress and the nation's taxpayers. Based on prior financial statement audits, GAO made numerous recommendations to IRS to address internal control deficiencies. GAO will continue to monitor, and will report separately, on IRS's progress in implementing prior recommendations that remain open. Consistent with past practice, GAO will also be separately reporting on the new internal control deficiencies identified in this year's audit and providing IRS recommendations for corrective actions to address them. In commenting on a draft of this report, IRS stated that it continues its efforts to improve its financial systems controls. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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  • Hong Kong Autonomy Act Update
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • United States Charges Russian Military Intelligence Officers for Cyber Crimes
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Clinical Researchers Plead Guilty in Connection with Scheme to Falsify Drug Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A Florida nurse practitioner and a Florida woman pleaded guilty today to their participation in a conspiracy to falsify clinical trial data. 
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  • Remarks at the Fifth Session of the UN Environment Assembly Leadership Dialogue
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    Ambassador Marcia [Read More…]