17 Florida deputies charged in pandemic loan fraud of nearly $500K in covid-relief funds
South Florida Sun-Sentinel October 14, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Seventeen deputies at the Broward Sheriff’s Office are accused of falsifying paperwork to collect money under government programs meant to help keep small businesses alive during the COVID pandemic.
Officials allege the fraud came from assistance offered by the Paycheck Protection Program, known as PPP, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, or EIDL, programs.
Many of the Sheriff’s Office deputies made their first appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick M. Hunt.
All are charged, in 17 separate cases, with fraud in connection with the emergency federal loan programs. Eight of them work in law enforcement, including a sergeant. Nine of them work in the department of detention, including a sergeant.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe said at a Thursday news conference the sworn law enforcement officers are accused of “diverting funds for their personal use,” and made clear it was not done in performance of their official duties. Collectively the 17 individuals took $495,171 from the loan programs.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will continue to uncover the fraud schemes and hold anyone involved accountable — regardless of an individual’s role in the community,” he said. “No matter the amount, we will not allow limited federal tax dollars, which were intended to provide a lifeline to small businesses as they struggled to stay afloat during the economically devastating pandemic lockdown, to be swindled by those who were employed in a position of trust and cast aside their duty to uphold and abide by the law. Our work is not done. This investigation is ongoing.”
The employees have been suspended, but none has been asked to resign pending results of the investigation, Sheriff Gregory Tony said on Thursday. The investigation was initiated by the Sheriff’s Office, and started by looking at who among the BSO’s 5,500 employees had obtained the PPP loans. The case was handed over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Reserve Board for further investigation. Tony said his Public Corruption Unit received a tip from an employee that several employees may have committed PPP fraud.
A few detention deputies had reached out to the union “to find out their options” last week after they were suspended, said Tony Marciano, the secretary/treasurer of the detention deputies union. He said the deputies had their uniforms, guns and badges taken away. He could not quantify how many are under federal investigation. “The majority of detention deputies are hard-working, good people. People make mistakes,” he said.
Those indicted are:
• Keith Dunkley, who voluntarily surrendered Thursday morning and was ordered to give up his passport. His defense attorney, Mike Dutko, requested a trial by jury and entered a not guilty plea. According to federal court records, in the summer of 2020, Dunkley and a co-conspirator submitted fraudulent applications for PPP loans and for other federal loans that were supposed to go to the company Global Group Alliances, LLC. He falsified IRS tax forms and lied about the company’s income and monthly payroll, according to the information filed by the U.S Attorney’s Office. Dunkley, 46, was released on a $50,000 bond.
• Stephanie Diane Smith, who still needs to hire an attorney and will be returning to federal court Oct. 26 to be arraigned. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Sources close to the investigation said Smith worked out of the Sheriff’s Pompano Beach district. The judge denied permission for her to leave the country to attend a wedding in Mexico. She was released on a $50,000 bond. According to the affidavit, Smith, 53, received two PPP loans on behalf of herself as a sole proprietor doing business as Children 1st Basketball Training and Agape Smith Vending “based upon materially false information about the borrower’s total gross business income for the year 2019, as well as a falsified Internal Revenue Service tax form submitted with her applications.” She was an employee since 1996.
• La’Keitha Lawhorn, a 16-year Sheriff’s veteran who lives in Miami Lakes, works out of the West Park district. She faces 20 years in prison if convicted of three counts of wire fraud. State records show she created her business, Home Empire Enterprises, LLC, before the pandemic, in November 2019. She was approved for her federal loan in July 2020. The judge Thursday denied permission for her to leave the country to attend a wedding in Jamaica. She still needs an attorney and will be returning to court Oct. 24. She was released on a $50,000 bond. According to the indictment, Lawhorn, 41, applied for and received three PPP loans on behalf of herself and her company, Home Empire Enterprises.
• Jean Pierre-Toussaint, 35, from the Tamarac district, is charged with one count of wire fraud. The six-year veteran must return to court Oct. 26 for arraignment and still needs a lawyer. He was released on a $50,000 bond.
• On Sept. 14, Katrina Brown, 46, was charged with three counts of wire fraud. She is accused of applying for and receiving two PPP loans.
• On Sept. 14, Alexandra Acosta, 37, was charged with one count of wire fraud for one PPP loan.
• Jewell Farrell Johnson, 46, is charged with two counts of wire fraud for receiving two PPP loans, one on behalf of herself as a sole proprietor and one on behalf of LRJ Enterprises of South Florida.
• On Sept. 14, Carolyn Denise Wade, 48, was charged with one count of wire fraud.
• On Sept. 14, Rorie Brown, 42, applied for and received one PPP loan and submitted an application to the SBA for an EIDL loan “that contained materially false information, including, among other things, the borrower’s gross revenues, cost of goods sold, and number of employees.”
• On Sept. 28, Alexis Monique Greene, 47, was charged with two counts of wire fraud for applying for and receiving two PPP loans.
• On Sept. 28, Ritchie Noah Dubuisson, 25, was charged with one count of wire fraud for one PPP loan.
• On Sept. 28, Keshondra Tameisha Davis, 37, was charged with one count of wire fraud for one PPP loan.
• On Sept. 28, Allen Dorvil, 33, was charged by indictment with one count of wire fraud for one PPP loan.
• On Oct. 5, Ancy Morancy, 33, a sergeant, was charged with one count of wire fraud for one PPP loan on behalf of himself as the sole proprietor of Moore Services Investment Group, LLC.
• On Oct. 5, Marcus Errol Powell, 37, was charged by indictment with one count of wire fraud. According to the indictment, Powell applied for and received one PPP loan on behalf of himself as the sole proprietor of Bonvivant Industries, LLC. He worked out of the Deerfield Beach district.
• On Oct. 5, Derrick J. Nesbitt, 46, was charged by indictment with two counts of wire fraud for two PPP loans on behalf of himself as the sole proprietor of Designer Life, LLC.
• On Sept. 14, George Anthony III, 50, a sergeant in the West Park district, was charged by indictment with two counts of wire fraud for two PPP loans “using the same false information.”
Many of those facing scrutiny had submitted paperwork for the most money possible under the program, a source said.
PPP experts have said the maximum amount a self-employed person without any employees could receive is $20,833. But to get it, a person would have to earn a $100,000 gross income using a formula to cover 2½ months’ payroll.
The South Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office has been pursuing cases of pandemic relief fraud involving the program, which was run by the Small Business Administration, and high-profile convictions have included the daughter of Broward’s former mayor; a Sheriff’s Office detention technician who received a loan for a business that had no evidence of existing prior to 2021, records say; and a political consultant.
The point of the program was to “keep small businesses afloat,” Lapointe said. It also became a pot of “ready targets” for people looking to profit.
“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but turn they do,” he said.
The concern was “let’s get the money out there,” he said, before guardrails were in the place to prevent the economy from a crash.
That attracted “opportunistic individuals,” he said.
Largest take-down of law enforcement officers in decades?
On Thursday morning, deputies in tactical gear were stationed at the front of the BSO headquarters building on West Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, traffic cones blocking traffic.
This Sheriff’s Office crackdown is one of the largest in a single agency in South Florida since the Miami River Cops scandal.
In the late 1980s, nearly 10% of the Miami Police Department were arrested, fired, suspended, or reprimanded after a drug-related scandal, which included officers planning to fly small planes loaded with 400-500 kilogram shipments of cocaine from Colombia to either Mexico or the Bahamas, then to transport the drugs to Miami for nationwide distribution.
The nickname originated from an incident in which officers stormed a drug-laden ship that was docked on the Miami River, causing three smugglers to drown when they jumped overboard.
©2023 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.