By Kevin Deutsch
A Coral Springs man will serve federal prison time for leading a nationwide scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $24 million in COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program loans – with the help of the former receiver of the National Football League Joshua Bellamy, federal prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Phillip J. Augustin, 53, was sentenced this week to 6.5 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Pamela Barker in Cleveland, Ohio, where Augustin masterminded the scam.
Barker also ordered Augustine to pay $5.9 million in restitution and confiscate $280,000 in funds previously seized from his bank account by the Justice Department, records show.
According to the feds, Augustine conspired to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent PPP loans backed by the Small Business Administration, then took kickbacks from people like Bellamy, whom Augustine enlisted to help with the fraud.
Another of Augustine’s partners in the conspiracy, James Stote, 56, of Hollywood, Florida, was also convicted this week and received a 10-year prison sentence.
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 rapid approval process at the start of the pandemic, according to archives.
“They recruited other PPP loan applicants and prepared and submitted fraudulent loan applications for them in exchange for a share of the loan proceeds,” according to a DOJ press release. “The applications they submitted for all of the loans in the program were based on fake payroll numbers, falsified IRS forms and fake 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 before their sentencing.
The government charged 17 more people in Augustin’s plot, which involved 90 demands for PPP money, all aimed at helping small businesses and their employees survive the pandemic.
According to federal court documents, Augustine cast a wide net to recruit cohorts from his scheme. A number of his business contacts agreed to participate in the fraud, including Bellamy, the former New York Jets receiver who filed fraudulent PPP claims and sent bribes to Augustine for orchestrating the scam, according to records.
Bellamy, of St. Petersburg, Florida, was previously sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining more than $1.2 million in PPP loans.
Anyone with information about alleged 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 online complaint form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
Submit to Coral Springs #1 award-winning news site Right here.
Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime reporter and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on the staff of the Miami Herald, New York Daily News and Palm Beach Post.