WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The founder of fraudulent COVID-19 relief fund that charged small businesses $1,000 or more for reservations to guarantee payments of up to $15,000 pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and misleading the US Small Business Administration (SBA), the Justice Department said in a press release on Monday.
"Brandon Lewis today admitted to a wide range of brazen schemes specifically designed to profit illegally from the COVID-19 pandemic by defrauding scores of frightened consumers and small business owners desperate for a financial lifeline," Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in the release.
As part of his guilty plea, Lewis admitted that he created the so-called "COVID-19 Relief Fund," which he purportedly managed and oversaw. The fund promised desperate small business owners "guaranteed funds" of between $12,500 and $15,000 in exchange for an upfront "reservation" fee of between $995 and $1,200, the release said.
Lewis falsely claimed that "the fund has up to $250 million available for small businesses" and provided a link for applicants to "purchase a reservation now," the release said.
Lewis also admitted founding a similar organization called the "American Relief Fund," and an unrelated website called Home Kitchen Goods, which received $400,000 from more than 8,500 orders for pandemic-related goods such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes that were never delivered, the release added.
In another scheme, Lewis admitted that he lied to the SBA when submitting 68 fraudulent loan applications for 35 shell companies that perform no real business, according to the release.