Jacksonville Business Owner Sentenced To Federal Prison For COVID Relief Fraud

Jacksonville, Florida – U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard today sentenced Kenneth Steven Landers (57, Jacksonville) to one year and one day in federal prison for wire fraud and engaging in an illegal monetary transaction. As part of his sentence, the court also entered an order of forfeiture in the amount of $910,000, the proceeds of his wire fraud scheme, and also ordered him to pay full restitution to his victims. Landers had pleaded guilty on February 14, 2023. 

According to court documents, during 2020 and 2021, Landers applied for federally backed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans 10 times, requesting a total of $1.41 million. He submitted the applications on behalf of four different corporate entities that he controlled, specifically, the American Fallen Veterans Service Project Inc., Tire Empire LLC, Maypops LLC, and Florida United Inc. In support of each application, Landers electronically submitted false information and documents, including fictitious or altered Internal Revenue Service tax forms.

Notwithstanding Landers’s use of fraudulent documents, seven of his ten PPP loan applications were approved and funded in the total amount of $910,000, which was deposited into financial accounts that he controlled. Rather than use the loan proceeds exclusively to pay employees or for other allowable expenses under the PPP, Landers used the funds for his personal benefit. For example, he paid off the mortgages on his home and a business property, purchased an 18kt gold Rolex watch, and bought a vintage Jaguar XKE Roadster. He also wrote checks to himself, transferred funds electronically to personal accounts, paid down personal debt, and made approximately $113,000 in cash withdrawals of funds traceable to PPP loan proceeds.

“The ripple effects of the COVID pandemic are still being felt throughout society today. Kenneth Steven Landers saw this global crisis as an opportunity to line his own pockets. IRS-CI is committed to pursuing these bad actors and ensuring that those who falsely manipulate the system are prosecuted to the fullest extent,” said IRS-CI Acting Special Agent In Charge Tara K. Reed. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates that criminals will pay a heavy price when they steal funds intended to provide much needed relief to many Americans who were in financial despair.”

This case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Coolican. The asset forfeiture was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mai Tran, Julie A. Simonsen, and Jennifer Harrington.

This case was prosecuted as part of the Department of Justice’s prosecution of fraud schemes that exploit the CARES Act relief programs. The CARES Act is a federal law enacted in March 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the two programs that were developed through CARES Act is the PPP. It provides funding to businesses through PPP loans for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. PPP allows the interest and principal on loans to be forgiven if the business spends proceeds on certain expense items within a designated time and uses a certain percentage of the loan on payroll expenses. The Department of Justice remains vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis.

Originally published at https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/pr/jacksonville-business-owner-sentenced-federal-prison-covid-relief-fraud

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