A man tried to scam the government out of $543,000 in coronavirus relief funds. He faked his suicide to evade arrest.
When David Adler Staveley’s family members found his suicide notes in May 2020, many thought the Andover, Mass., man was dead.
The notes were left with associates and family members - including Staveley’s 80-year-old mother. When his unlocked car was found parked near the Atlantic Ocean, law enforcement agents dispatched a search-and-rescue boat in the hopes they could find his body.
Still, not everyone was convinced Staveley was dead. People who knew him best told investigators they suspected the apparent suicide was another one of Staveley’s schemes.
And it was, according to federal investigators.
Over the next three months, Staveley used fake identities and stolen license plates to evade law enforcement agents trying to track him down. He changed his phone number at least five times before U.S. Marshals closed in on him in Alpharetta, Ga., just north of Atlanta.
In his possession, according to court records, were “multiple false identification documents that he had used throughout the period of his flight.” He was apprehended on July 23, 2020, and pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and failure to appear in court.
On Thursday, Staveley was sentenced to more than four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Staveley, 54, was wanted in connection to what the Justice Department referred to as a brazen attempt to defraud the federal government of $543,959 in forgivable loans available to businesses hit hard during the global pandemic, known as the Paycheck Protection Program.
Federal investigators alleged that Staveley and David Butziger, 53, of Warwick, R.I., falsely claimed they owned four businesses with “large monthly payrolls,” including three restaurants. A Justice Department news release issued Thursday states, “In fact, they did not own the businesses.”
Staveley had submitted loan applications in his brother’s name without the man’s knowledge, court records state. He also submitted fraudulent tax-return documents created by Butziger, the records add.
While the loan applications were still pending, “a concerned citizen aware of their fraudulent nature brought them to the attention of law enforcement which ultimately led to their denial,” according to the sentencing memo.
“Though Staveley was ultimately thwarted in his attempt to obtain PPP funds, there can be no question that his intention, at the very beginning of the pandemic, was to exploit the national crisis for his own advantage,” it states, adding: “He saw the economic emergency created by the pandemic simply as an opportunity to make himself rich by taking for himself what was meant for those in need.”
Staveley and Butziger were arrested in May 2020. They were the first people charged with defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program.
Three weeks later though, according to court records, Staveley cut off the electronic bracelet monitoring his movements and staged his own death. He left suicide notes with family members and associates, and his car was found parked near the ocean in Massachusetts, with his wallet inside.
With “uncertainty as to whether Staveley had indeed committed suicide” though, law enforcement agents began a three-month-long hunt for him. Staveley, according to court records, claimed Butziger told him to remove the electronic-monitoring device and drive south. Staveley was ultimately caught in Georgia.
Federal prosecutors argued for a harsh sentence. The public, they said, should be protected from Staveley, who has two prior federal fraud convictions in New Hampshire.
“[He] simply seems incapable of taking full responsibility for his own choices in life,” the sentencing memo states.
Staveley broke down during the sentencing hearing Thursday, WJAR reported. His attorney, Jason Knight, asked the court for compassion, according to the station, saying his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder made worse by his incarceration. Knight did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
Judith Sanborn, Staveley’s mother, also testified during Thursday’s sentencing, saying she would help her son, who “has paid dearly for his mistakes,” WJAR reported.
Butziger pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in September 2020. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month, according to the Associated Press.