Coronavirus relief funds are a scammer’s delight

I’m actually kind of surprised that of all the hundreds of scam artists who’ve been arrested for engineering fraud schemes involving COVID-19 relief funds, so far I only personally know one.

But that’s just among the careless grifters who’ve been lugged. You have to assume that for every flim-flam man the feds have pinched, dozens if not hundreds of others have successfully pulled off their heists.

This latest crime wave involves the Paycheck Protection Program under the federal CARES Act. The feds were supposed to be giving businesses “forgivable” loans — free money, in other words — to keep their workers employed.

“Forgivable” — that word alone was like the feds blowing a dog whistle that only fraudsters could hear.

To obtain these handouts, all you had to do was produce “records” showing that you operated a business and paid taxes and federal bureaucrats would rubber-stamp the documents and send you millions.

What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s a potpourri of recent Department of Justice headlines:

“Hawaii CEO Charged … Arkansas Project Manager Sentenced … Nine Charged with $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud Scheme … Suburban Chicago Businessman Arrested … Two Oregon Men Face Charges for Pocketing Millions.”

In Rhode Island, they busted a guy on “federal supervised release” — parole — for four bank robberies. He used his early freedom to steal $600,000 for a fictitious Fall River company he called Top Notch Tile. That scammer will be sentenced Tuesday.

The latest arrest here was of a “Salem Man” named Roosevelt Fernandez. He was charged last week with grabbing a fraudulent “Economic Income Payment” under the CARES Act last May.

Fernandez deposited it to the account of “Soluciones Multi Service” — nice touch, a name that indicates welfare for foreigners, which should have provided him with woke immunity against all forms of prosecution, lest the cops be charged with racial profiling.

Alas, Fernandez was not content with merely feeding at the trough. He wanted to lick the plate.

The feds say “Salem Man” was also recorded on ATM surveillance video depositing fraudulent income tax returns. The total in that scheme allegedly came to another $600,000.

The reason I expected to know more of these scammers is because for some reason I seem to have come into contact over the years with more than my fair share of low-life grifters, scam artists and general ne’er-do-wells.

The radio corporation I once worked for also employed at my station a weekend host who fatally poisoned the guy Whitey Bulger stole his South Boston liquor store from. Another of our part-timers poisoned his wife with antifreeze.

One of our weekday hosts was arrested and spent two years at Rikers Island awaiting trial on child rape charges. (His case ended in a mistrial.) Our morning guy was a convicted felon who had obstructed justice in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The radio crime wave got so out of control that I finally had a polo shirt printed that I wore to all station events. It said: I AM NOT A FELON.

Oddly, though, the alleged COVID-19 scammer I know worked not in Boston, but at one of my other affiliates, down on the Cape.

I got a call last spring from another guy I’d worked with and he told me our friend “Kurt Sanborn” had been pinched — “the first in the nation,” the feds in Rhode Island bragged.

But when I read the story, the perp was identified as David A. Staveley. He said he’d changed his name for “religious reasons.” Yeah, right.

He’d also used his brother’s name — another common M.O. in the flim-flam community. There was once an imprisoned Massachusetts state rep who stole his own daughter’s Social Security number to fraudulently obtain credit cards in jail.

Anyway, this former FM radio program director is charged with fraudulently filing for $500,000 in “forgivable” loans for restaurants that were already defunct.

Considering that my old pal had already done time in a federal bank-fraud case out of New Hampshire, and had also pleaded guilty to stealing $284,000 from the owners of the Lowell Spinners baseball team, the feds decided to put an ankle bracelet on him when they released him on bail.

Sanborn/Staveley sawed off the ankle bracelet, wrote a suicide note and abandoned his car next to the ocean. Oddly, the police were not convinced he had drowned himself.

He was on the lam for two months before being rearrested in Georgia last summer and is now awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, every week more and more of these virus grifters are rounded up. An NFL player from the Jets was arrested in September. He allegedly spent $62,000 of his $1.2 million haul in Paycheck Protection Program funds at a Florida casino.

It’s said that embezzling usually involves gambling, sex or drugs. COVID-19 fraud also includes automobiles. It’s a recurring theme — “Brooklyn Man” arrested last month for $1.9 million in fraudulent loans allegedly spent $250,000 on a new Bentley Continental and another 100K on a 2020 Cadillac Escalade.

A $16-million case out of Texas and Illinois featured “a Porsche and a Lamborghini.” One of the defendants, Siddiq Azeemuddin, of Illinois, cashed “1100 fake paychecks totaling more than $3 million in fraudulent PPP loan proceeds.”

Final question: Is this massive fraud problem going to get better or worse when Joe Biden becomes president next week?

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