New Jersey man receives two-year prison sentence for pandemic relief fraud

A New Jersey man was sentenced to two years in prison on Thursday after admitting to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pandemic relief funds, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The DOJ announced that Bernard Lopez, a resident of Middlesex County, N.J., obtained a 30-month prison sentence for cashing a stolen and altered check from the U.S. Treasury check in addition to fraudulently receiving a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

The PPP was established at the start of the pandemic under former President Trump, included in a COVID-19 relief package known as the CARES Act. The Small Business Administration oversees the program, which had doled out forgivable loans to business owners who were forced to shut down as a result of the pandemic. 

The loans were meant to keep businesses’ staff on payroll amid lockdown — among other things.  

However, the DOJ stated that Lopez, 40, conjured a scheme to commit bank fraud when he deposited a Treasury check into a corporate account in the name of Pezlo Management LLC. The check was manipulated so that the amount cashed read $211,886. He withdrew or transferred the money before the bank detected the fraud, according to the statement.

He also fraudulently applied for a PPP loan under an alleged business called Company-1. The Justice Department said that Lopez falsely stated that he had 25 employees at Company-1 and a monthly payroll expense of approximately $192,000, and also made up expenses for his company. Because of these claims, the lender approved a sum of $481,502. 

Lopez pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and another count of theft of government funds.

On top of the prison sentence, Lopez will have three years of supervised release, a restitution of $137,000 and forfeiture of $481,502.

Tags bank fraud Donald Trump Paycheck Protection Program

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