Dominoes have begun to fall after an April murder in Mobile set in motion the discovery of a $1 million web of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud.
A Saraland woman, believed to be at the core of the fraud, pleaded guilty earlier this month in federal court to conspiracy and wire fraud for preparing false PPP applications on behalf of others. The PPP program was passed by Congress in 2020 for economic relief for businesses adversely impacted by COVID-19.
According to court and plea documents filed with the Southern District of Alabama, Corine Campbell, 37, filed as many as 50 fake PPP applications between May 1, 2020, and Sept. 20, 2021. According to prosecutors, Campbell personally obtained $200,000 through the operation. Her plea agreement could lead to the further prosecution of others involved.
Campbell pleaded on Dec. 13 and is set to be sentenced in April. The maximum penalties for her charges are 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. According to her plea agreement, if she “provides full, complete, truthful and substantial cooperation to the United States, which results in substantial assistance to the United States in the investigation or prosecution of another criminal offense” her sentencing could be less severe.
Fraud in connection with pandemic relief transfer payments is a prevalent concern for federal authorities. The Secret Service announced in December it has named a new National Pandemic Fraud Recovery Coordinator to lead the charge in investigating this type of crime. They say there is potential for up to $100 billion in pandemic-related fraud since programs rolled out—about $2.3 billion has been recovered.
Federal authorities were alerted to the Campbell’s racket when Demetrius Richardson, 42, was arrested by Mobile police on April 19 for the April 10 murder of Dewon Donaldson on Ann Street. A search of the Small Business Application (SBA) loan database showed Richardson as possessing a PPP loan from Prestamos CDFI of Phoenix, Arizona, in the amount of $20,830.
A false Schedule C tax filing and falsified Navy Federal Credit Union monthly statements were submitted with the application in support of the loan. The tax filing asserted that Richardson had made $108,099 in 2019, despite the fact Richardson had been incarcerated from 2006 through August 2020 for previous crimes and claimed no income in 2019 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Navy Federal determined the bank statements were generated in September 2020.
According to the federal complaint, Campbell assisted Richardson with filing the documents online on April 15 — five days after the murder of Donaldson and four days prior to his arrest — and other documents on April 28, after he was in custody and charged with murder. Richardson made two payments to Campbell in May for $8,000 for her assistance, which is also prohibited in the program.
Prosecutors say Richardson’s investigation led authorities to Leroy Vidal Jackson, who they discovered was another benefactor in Campbell’s PPP fraud operation.
According to press records, Jackson was convicted in 2005 and served nearly 15 years in custody for leading the Mobile-based Gorilla Records drug ring that was trafficking crack cocaine. He was released in March 2021.
Despite being in custody during qualifying periods for applicable PPP loans, Jackson was able to obtain a $20,832 loan eight days after his release from federal prison, on March 25, 2021. Falsified financial documents claimed Jackson was making $8,333 a month as the sole proprietor of a landscaping business and had a business income of $106,788.
Campbell allegedly used the same Navy Federal bank statement template for both Richardson and Jackson, showing identical data and even the same balance of $10,044.77 for the date range.
Homeland Security executed a search warrant at Campbell’s home in Saraland on Sept. 9, where her cell phone was seized. Text and WhatsApp messages obtained off the device show communications between Jackson and Campbell where they discussed the scheme.
Campbell was also charged with possession of a firearm by a restricted person. Authorities say during the search of her home she had a pistol in one of her drawers, which she could not legally possess as she is a convicted felon.
According to SBA records, three PPP loans were obtained by Campbell. In February 2021, she obtained $9,040 as a sole proprietor for a janitorial business; in May 2020, she received $11,222 for “Miscellaneous Financial Investment Activities”; and in January 2021 she was loaned $15,208 for a “tax preparation service” business. According to Alabama business license records, two businesses are associated with Campbell’s name — Impressionable Tax Services LLC formed in March 2018 and “My Helping Hand” formed in May 2021. The description of the latter states, “To help families in need dealing with food, clothing, help with paying bills and cousiling (sic).”
In November, Tyanna Latoya Vionne Earl, 28, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy for her involvement in the racket and assisting Richardson in transferring funds.Plea Agreement
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