Florida couple charged with COVID rescue fraud

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – A Florida couple tried to raise more than $ 5.8 million in coronavirus relief funds by filing bogus loan applications, federal prosecutors have said.

Julio Lugo, 44, and Rosenide Venant, 37, both of Davenport, were arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy and misrepresenting at a financial institution, court documents show. Lugo was also charged with an illegal money transaction. If convicted, Lugo faces up to 45 years in federal prison and Venant faces up to 35 years. The case is pending in federal court in Tampa.

According to a criminal complaint, Lugo and Venant have submitted at least 70 bogus and fraudulent loan applications from last spring to the Small Business Administration, including for shell companies created by Lugo, Venant and their relatives. They also secured coronavirus relief funds for a former tax preparation company that Lugo previously used for a fraud scheme in 2015, officials said.

After the emergency loans were secured, Lugo and Venant paid off a luxury vehicle and spent more than $ 62,000 in casinos, investigators said. They also withdrew at least $ 320,000 in cash, prosecutors said. Lugo then posted a video on Facebook showing a hotel room littered with $ 100 bills and at least $ 5,000 in Louis Vuitton merchandise, authorities said.

Online court records do not list lawyers for Lugo and Venant.

The Paycheque Protection Program represents billions of dollars in repayable small business loans for Americans struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief program that became federal law last March.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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