MIAMI, FL – On Monday, January 31, 2022, a federal district judge in Fort Lauderdale sentenced 29-year-old Damara Holness to 20 months in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for lying on a coronavirus relief loan application and fraudulently obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help small businesses financially survive the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, Holness must pay $300,000 in restitution.
In 2020, Holness applied for a $300,000 forgivable, federally-guaranteed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan on behalf of Holness Consulting, Inc., a Florida company that she owned. Holness claimed in the on-line loan application, and through supporting fraudulent payroll tax forms, that her company employed 18 people and spent an average of $120,000 each month on payroll, neither of which was true. A bank in Georgia approved Holness Consulting’s PPP loan application based on the lies and wired $300,000 to the company’s bank account in Florida.
Once the money hit the bank account, Holness checks from the company bank account made out to others who agreed, for a fee, to help with the fraud. People receiving the checks would endorse and return them to Holness. Then, Holness would cash the checks at the company’s bank, give about $300 to the check endorser and keep the rest of the cash for herself – about $1,000 per check.
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Damara Holness is a former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus.
Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami, announced the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz, II. FBI Miami investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan prosecuted it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Stone is handling asset forfeiture.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who suffered financially from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.