Article: Two Camden County Residents Charged with Conspiracy to Defraud Victims of More Than $1.4 Million in Coronavirus Relief Fraud Scheme

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Two Camden County Residents Charged with Conspiracy to Defraud Victims of More Than $1.4 Million in Coronavirus Relief Fraud Scheme

Department of Justice, 20 May 2021

CAMDEN, N.J. – Two Camden County, New Jersey, residents were charged for their role in fraudulently obtaining federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) totaling $1.4 million, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced today.

Stephen Bennett, 45, of Berlin, New Jersey, and Rhonda Thomas, 36, of Sicklerville, New Jersey, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, one count of bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Bennett and Thomas are scheduled to appear by videoconference today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams.

According to the criminal complaints:

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted in March 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans, which must be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal on the PPP loan to be forgiven if the business spends the loan proceeds on these expense items within a designated period and uses at least a certain percentage of the PPP loan proceeds on payroll expenses.

The CARES Act authorized the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide EIDLs of up to $2 million to eligible small businesses experiencing substantial financial disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A company may use EIDL funds for payroll expenses, sick leave, production costs, and business obligations, such as debts, rent, and mortgage payments.

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