A Camden County, New Jersey, resident was sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in fraudulently obtaining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) benefits and economic disaster loans ( EIDL), fraudulent receipt of unemployment benefits and illegal possession of a firearm, WE Lawyer Philip R. Sellinger announced it today.
Stephen Bennett, 46, of Berlin, New Jersey, had already pleaded guilty before WE District Judge Karen M. Williams to an information charging him with one count of bank fraud conspiracy, one count of wire fraud and one count of felony possession of a firearm. Judge Williams handed down the sentence on November 21, 2022 in Camden Federal Court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
In 2020, Bennett conspired with Rhonda Thomas, 38, of Sicklerville, New Jersey, to submit a PPP application and an EIDL application for a company controlled by Bennett. The applications indicated that the company had 16 employees, gross revenues of $1.73 million and an average monthly payroll of $144,000, when in fact the company had no employees, revenues or payroll. Bennett and Thomas also submitted fake tax forms and altered bank statements as part of the PPP loan application. Based on the misrepresentations, the loans were approved for an amount of $510,000. Bennett paid bribes of more than $150,000 to Thomas and weused the remainder of the fraudulently obtained PPP and EIDL loan proceeds to pay his personal expenses.
Also in 2020, Bennett defrauded the Pennsylvania Department of Labor by submitting 74 unemployment insurance claims under a temporary federal unemployment insurance program that offered benefits to people who were not eligible for unemployment benefits. other types of unemployment, such as self-employed, independent contractors or gig economy workers. Bennett collected personally identifiable information (PII), including the names, residential addresses and social security numbers, of other people and wetricked the PII into submitting fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, resulting in the payment of $425,339 in benefits to Bennett.
In May 2021, law enforcement officials executing a search warrant at Bennett’s home found an unserialized 0.9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol (commonly referred to as a “ghost pistol”) and a magazine loaded with 16 cartridges. Bennett is a convicted felon.
In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Williams sentenced Bennett to five years of probation, fined him $15,000 and ordered him to pay restitution of $942,141.
Thomas pleaded guilty before Judge Williams on June 28, 2022, to an information charging him with one count of bank fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering and is expected to be sentenced on December 16, 2022.
WE Lawyer Sellinger credited Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Special Agents – Office of the Inspector General, under Patricia Tarasca, Special Agent-in-Charge, New York Regional Office, Social Security Administration Special Agents, Office of the Inspector General, New York Field Division, under Special Agent in Charge Sharon MacDermott; special agents of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, under Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire in Philadelphia, special agents of the WE Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, New York Region, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Mellone, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.
The government is represented by Deputy WE Lawyer Daniel A. Friedman and Jason M. Richardson, Lawyer in charge of WE Lawyer‘s Office’s Criminal Division at Camden.
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