OMAHA, Neb. (KCAU) — Eleven people were arrested for allegedly conspiring to, and committing, wire fraud of COVID relief funds.  

According to a release from the United States Attorney’s Office, 11 people were charged for allegedly submitting fraudulent applications for COVID relief funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  

Parties charged in the case include Ramel Thompson, Carl Estwick, Jackie Harper, Tarysh Hogue, Richard Kelly, Lenfield Kendrick, Henry Lewis, Trevor McNeil, Michael Perkins, Michael Perkins, Jr., and Shawn Prater.  

The release stated that the individuals submitted applications seeking ‘Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)” funds, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and advances totaling up to $7,642,651 and additional advances totaling $2,467,116.  

McNeil was arrested in Atlanta, and Kendrick was arrested in Las Vegas. The rest of the parties involved in the case were arrested in Omaha.  

According to the release, Thompson provided the team with knowledge on how to obtain the funds, and he prepared false applications, false supporting documents on behalf of the others, and submitted a fraudulent application for an EIDL loan.  

The release also stated that Estwick, Harper, Hogue, Kelly, Kendrick, Lewis, McNeil, Perkins, Perkins Jr., and Prater allegedly submitted applications, signed false supporting documents, and received PPP and EIDL loans that had been fraudulently obtained for 14 businesses.  

Items that were allegedly falsified in the applications included the number of employees that the businesses had to pay salaries and taxes for, the amount of paid independent contractors, and the amount of average monthly payroll expenses.  

The release indicated that the loans were intended to be used only for business-related purposes including payroll, rent, utilities, and mortgage interest, which they were not. 

The release cited the United States Attorney Jan Sharp, who stated the individuals were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.  

“In March 2020, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice prioritized the investigation and the prosecution of COVID-related fraud schemes,” said Sharp, “This case, and others like it in this District and across the country, are the result of that concerted effort. The United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will continue to hold accountable persons who attempted to exploit the programs that Congress enacted to help workers and businesses who were struggling from the effects of the pandemic.”  

The release stated that penalties for wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy include a prison term of up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine. Money laundering is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If the defendants are convicted of multiple offenses, they will have to give up any property derived from proceeds they obtained as a result of the violations.  

“FBI Omaha and our federal, state, and local partners are committed to protecting the integrity of government assistance programs,” said FBI Omaha Special Agent Eugene Kowel, “We will not tolerate PPP funds being fraudulently used to line someone’s pockets while citizens of our country were battling a pandemic. Today’s arrests send the message that the FBI will remain vigilant in making sure federal assistance funds are used as intended.”  

The release indicated that the Attorney General established a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force on May 17, 2021. The Task Force was intended to enhance efforts to resolve and prevent pandemic-related fraud.  

For additional information on the department’s response to the pandemic, click here.  

Information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can be reported to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or the NCDF Web Complaint Form.