St. John was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Texas. The FBI and IRS are investigating.
St. John is one of 19 people, led by Michael Hill and Andrew Moran, who allegedly put together a fraud scheme to illegally obtain funding from the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The group allegedly obtained 16 loans totaling $ 3.5 million by using existing businesses or new businesses to apply to the program.
“Once in receipt of the fraudulently obtained funds, the defendants did not use the money as intended, such as to pay employee salaries, cover fixed debt or utility payments or continue health care benefits for employees,” the U.S. Attorney’s press release states. “Instead, the defendants typically paid Hill and Moran, transferred money to their personal accounts and spent the funds on various personal purchases.”
Each defendant could spend up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The CARES Act was signed into law March 29, 2020, and was designed to provide businesses with COVID-19 relief amid the pandemic.
When the Trump administration unveiled PPP in 2020, the full impacts from the pandemic were just beginning to be felt in the economy.
There was a race to get money out as quickly as possible because of how unpredictable the situation was. So the loans went through major banks that often had existing relationships with eligible businesses for the sake of expediency.
The program enjoyed bipartisan support, and the treasury secretary at the time, Steven Mnuchin, told a congressional committee in September 2020 that the payments had supported 50 million jobs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.