Houston man gets nearly a decade behind bars for defrauding COVID relief program of $1.6M

When Congress doled out hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic relief funds last year, there were a handful of voices — most of which were ignored — raising the alarm about the possibility that some might seek to take advantage of the opportunity.

It seems those fears were well-founded. Now, the Washington Examiner reports that a Texas man will be spending more than nine years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to the tune of $1.6 million.

The fraudulently obtained funds were reportedly used by 30-year-old Lee Price III, of Houston, for the purchase of a variety of expensive personal items, including a Lamborgini Urus, a Ford F-350 truck, and a Rolex watch.

He also was said to have used part of the funds to pay off a personal property loan, and according to local news outlets went on a spending spree in the Houston area that included trips to nightclubs.

Guilty plea

A press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that Price pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in September, and has now been sentenced to serve 110 months — a little more than nine years — in federal prison.

According to the DOJ, Price submitted fraudulent applications for $2.6 million in PPP relief funding on behalf of three separate businesses, and in the process falsely represented the number of employees working for each business as well as true payroll costs.

In one instance highlighted by the DOJ, Price even listed the name of someone who had recently died as in charge of one of the companies.

Tax fraud

In addition to the fraudulent applications, Price also committed tax records fraud and other crimes in support of his bid to obtain the federal relief money, of which he ultimately received $1.6 million, the DOJ said.

Some $700,000 of that money has already been seized back by the government and law enforcement, the Washington Examiner reported.

Price, for his part, is said to have a long rap sheet that includes a criminal history dating back to 2007, when he was still a teenager.

Asset seizure

According to the Washington Examiner, Price’s case is but one of many. The DOJ has already prosecuted more than 150 defendants in at least 95 cases of PPP fraud, the outlet said.

Federal authorities have also seized back roughly $75 million in cash total, in addition to taking custody of a variety of luxury items and real estate properties that were purchased with fraudulently obtained funds.

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