Seven defendants, including three who had worked for JetBlue Airways, pleaded guilty to stealing $1.5 million from a federal pandemic relief program for small businesses, prosecutors said.
The defendants, from Queens and New Jersey, each face up to 20 years in prison. They agreed to give up COVID-19 Economic Disaster Loan funds they fraudulently obtained in 2020 and luxury watches and automobiles, prosecutors said.
JetBlue computers were used to submit some of the loan applications, according to the criminal complaint.
Orlando Sanay, Keily Nunez, Michael Pimentel Veloz, Fanny Plasencia, Ramon Osvaldo Pena and Angel K. Colon have each pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with false statements they made to obtain EIDL loans from American small businesses. Administration. The statements included false claims that the businesses in need of assistance had 2019 employees and revenue, the complaint says.
Nunez’s twin, Keimi, pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
All seven are expected to be sentenced later this year in federal court in Brooklyn.
The defendants stole “a government program designed to help small businesses and struggling families survive the pandemic,” said Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which includes Long Island.
The plea agreements are part of a nationwide effort by federal prosecutors and investigators to combat widespread fraud in COVID relief programs. EIDL has the highest percentage of projected fraud: up to $86 billion out of $350 billion in total loans, or nearly 25%, according to the SBA’s Office of Inspector General.
Of the seven defendants, only attorneys for Pena and Colon responded to requests for comment. Pena, 39, of Maywood, New Jersey, “admitted responsibility for his actions and hopes [the federal judge] takes into consideration all the significant positive aspects of his life during sentencing,” his attorney Todd A. Spodek said.
Colon, 39, of Garfield, New Jersey, “was a minor participant” in the crime, “which the government has acknowledged,” his attorney Joshua Stevens said Thursday. “Mr. Colon hopes that the judge in sentencing will take into consideration [Colon’s] a spotless life so far.”
A JetBlue spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment this week.
Sanay, 41, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Keimi and Keily Nunez, both 42, of Queens, were employed by JetBlue from April to November 2020 when they and the other defendants requested EIDL loans for at least 10 companies, according to the complaint. A year ago, a federal prosecutor told Newsday that Keily Nunez no longer worked for the Queens-based airline.
In one instance, Sanay applied for an EIDL loan using a JetBlue computer in July 2020. The loan application was for Sanay Venture Capital LLC, which he said employed 26 people and had revenue of $839,000 in 2019. But government records show the business, which Sanay said he owned, had no employees and never filed taxes, according to the complaint.
Sanay Venture received $139,400 from the SBA, the complaint states.
The defendants used the EIDL funds for personal expenses not related to the business, including the purchase of a house, bank account overdraft fees and medical bills. Sanay made a car payment to BMW Financial Services in September 2020 using part of the Sanay Venture loan, said Angel Martinez, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Separately, federal investigators have had more time to pursue fraud in the EIDL program and another COVID relief initiative, Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed into law two bills that extend the statute of limitations for civil and criminal fraud charges involving EIDL and PPP loans to 10 years. “My message to those cheaters out there is this: You can’t hide,” the president said Aug. 5. “We will find you. We’ll get you back what you stole.”