Federal authorities arrest 27 persons for fraud on federal recovery funds
By The Star Staff
W. Stephen Muldrow, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, announced Thursday the indictment of 27 individuals for their participation in a scheme to illegally obtain federal recovery funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
A federal grand jury charged the defendants with multiple counts of wire fraud and money laundering. The charging documents allege that from April 2020 through July 2023, the defendants and their co-conspirators caused the submission of at least 23 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications seeking the illegal disbursement of at least $458,923 in federal recovery funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Bank
“This is the third round of defendants charged since April 2023 relating to this fraud scheme, and the investigation remains ongoing,” said Muldrow. “The EIDL and PPP loans were supposed to benefit those whose legitimate businesses were suffering from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prosecution of those who illegally obtain government benefits will continue to be a priority for our office.”
The U.S. Secret Service, the Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations conducted the investigation with the collaboration of the Puerto Rico Treasury Department, the Puerto Rico Bureau of Special Investigations, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, and the Guaynabo Municipal Police.
According to court documents, defendant Brian Oniel Blassini, together with Manfred A. Pentzke Lemus, a.k.a. “Man/Contable/El Gestor”, Rodolpho R. Pagesy Roussel, a.k.a. “El Banquero”, Augusto A. Lemus Berrios, a.k.a. “Primo”, Jonatan Ben David Prieto Ruiz De Val, a.k.a. “Johnny Millones”, Ligia María Lemus De Pentzke, and others knowingly devised a scheme to defraud the SBA and Bank 1 to obtain federal money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises submitted through applications for EIDL and PPP loans made available to help small businesses recover from the impact of the pandemic through the CARES Act. Pentzke Lemus, Pagesy Roussel, Lemus Berrios, Prieto Ruiz De Val, and Lemus De Pentzke were previously charged in April in a separate indictment.
The CARES Act authorized federal assistance through the issuance of SBA loans to small businesses and non-profit entities that experienced revenue loss due to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. The EIDL program was one such loan assistance program for small businesses. To procure the loan, applicants had to fill out an online application detailing operational information for the 12‑month period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the number of employees in the business, the gross business revenues realized, and the cost of goods sold. Another form of assistance provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of United States taxpayer funds in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, such as interest on mortgages, rent and utilities, through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The indictment alleges that the defendants and their co-conspirators submitted at least 23 fraudulent EIDL and PPP loan applications containing materially false and fraudulent information and false documents, including false and fictitious tax documents, payroll records, bank records, and identification documents, to procure the disbursement of EIDL and PPP assistance loans by Bank 1. The indictment further alleges that the defendants and their co-conspirators directed the recipients of the fraudulently obtained PPP and EIDL loans to remit a portion of the proceeds of the loans to the defendants and their co-conspirators and used the loan proceeds to benefit themselves and others, and to pay for expenses prohibited under the requirements of the EIDL and PPP programs.
The court documents claim that defendant Manfred A. Pentzke Lemus was the principal organizer of the fraudulent scheme and the efforts to launder the proceeds; defendant Rodolpho R. Pagesy Roussel worked at Bank 1 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and used his position to obtain the approval of fraudulent PPP applications; defendant Augusto A. Lemus Berríos assisted in the preparation of fraudulent PPP applications; defendant Jonatan Ben David Prieto Ruiz De Val acted as a money courier and coordinated the delivery of “kickback” payments to further the fraudulent scheme; defendant Ligia María Lemus De Pentzke received “kickback” payments from proceeds of the fraudulent scheme and forwarded them to her co‑conspirators; and defendant Carlos Manfredo Pentzke Chamorro received fraudulent PPP and EIDL loans in furtherance of the conspiracy.
Defendants Brian Oniel Blassini and Homar Javier Horta Torres are facing one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, for knowingly conducting financial transactions involving the proceeds of wire fraud, together with other individuals previously indicted. The defendants, including Brian Oniel Blassini, are also alleged to have recruited other unindicted co-conspirators to not only obtain additional EIDL and PPP loans under false pretenses, but recruit others to submit fraudulent applications.
If convicted, the defendants are facing up to 30 years in prison for the wire fraud counts. Brian Oniel Blassini and Homar Javier Horta Torres are also facing up to 20 years of imprisonment for the money laundering count.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy R. Henwood and Daniel J. Olinghouse.