FBI: 11 arrested after probe uncovers $2.5 million in PPP fraud

The FBI announced Wednesday that 11 people had been arrested in an investigation into fraudulent CARES Act spending.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 8:02 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT/Gray News) - The FBI announced Wednesday that 11 people had been arrested in an investigation into fraudulent CARES Act spending.

A grand jury indicted 11 people for allegedly taking advantage of programs aimed at helping struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic: Carl Estwick, Jackie Harper, Tarysh G. Hogue, Richard L. Kelly, Lenfield Kendrick, Henry T. Lewis, Trevor A. McNeil, Michael A. Perkins, Michael A. Perkins Jr., Shawn Prater and Ramel Thompson.

Nine of them were arrested in Omaha; McNeil was arrested by the FBI in Atlanta, and Kendrick was arrested by agents in Las Vegas.

The U.S. attorney said authorities believe 58-year-old Thompson was the ringleader, saying he would give direction and guidance to the others when applying for payroll protection loans and economic injury disaster loans — financial mechanisms made available to businesses having trouble staying afloat during the pandemic. Investigators said they believed he would also get kickbacks from at least fie of the defendants.

According to state court records obtained by WOWT, Thompson spent 270 days in jail in 2017 for evading income tax and filing fraudulent Nebraska income tax returns.

Investigators said the group applied for more than $7.6 million in loans and received $2.5 million. Some of the businesses were real, but some were made up, authorities said. But they said the information on the loan applications — from number of employees to payroll and revenue estimates — was inflated.

“When you’re ripping off a program that is designed to help struggling businesses, that’s especially galling,” U.S. Attorney Jan Sharp said Wednesday.

The government listed a number of businesses in the indictment that were used in the scheme: Smokin Gunz Bar B Que, Mr. C’s Rims & Tire Sales, Sprague Street Auto, Kelly Auto Detailing, Kendrick & Kendrick Construction, Perkins & Perkins Construction, McNeils Cleaning, Hogue Enterprises, Neat Fleet, among others.

“All these subjects - the individuals listed in the indictment had a nexus to Omaha,” said Omaha FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Eugene Kowel. “It’s conduct that occurred in Omaha -- the institutions and fraudulent schemes.”

Investigators don’t believe they’ll recover anything close to the $2.5-million lost in the alleged scheme to defraud. Upon conviction, the government did identify a number of assets that would be seized ranging from an Omaha home to a 2006 Bentley, a couple of dump trucks, a pickup and $96,000 in cash.

Several defendants will make their initial appearance in federal court in Omaha on Thursday afternoon.

A conviction on the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

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