Florida couple charged with COVID relief fraud

Author: The Associated Press
Published: Updated:
Money. (Credit: CBS News)
Money. (Credit: CBS News)

A Florida couple tried to obtain more than $5.8 million in coronavirus relief funds by filing false loan applications, federal prosecutors said.

Julio Lugo, 44, and Rosenide Venant, 37, both of Davenport, were arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy and making false statements to a financial institution, according to court documents. Lugo has also been charged with an illegal monetary transaction. If convicted, Lugo faces up to 45 years in federal prison, and Venant faces up to 35 years. The case is being tried in Tampa federal court.

According to a criminal complaint, Lugo and Venant submitted at least 70 false and fraudulent loan applications starting last spring to the Small Business Administration, including for shell companies established by Lugo, Venant, and their relatives. They also secured coronavirus relief funds for a defunct tax-preparation company that Lugo had previously used for a 2015 fraud scheme, officials said.

Once the emergency loans were secured, Lugo and Venant paid off a luxury vehicle and spent more than $62,000 at casinos, investigators said. They also withdrew at least $320,000 in cash, prosecutors said. Lugo later posted a Facebook video featuring a hotel room littered with $100 bills and at least $5,000 in merchandise from Louis Vuitton, authorities said.

Online court records didn’t list attorneys for Lugo and Venant.

The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law last March.

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