A Georgia woman who fraudulently obtained more than $6 million in COVID-19 relief money was sentenced to more than three years in prison on Tuesday. The case is the latest example of Americans misusing the Paycheck Protection Program, a part of the $2.2 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Congress passed last year, says the New York Times. Hunter VanPelt pleaded guilty to bank fraud after submitting six loan applications for a total of more than $7.9 million on behalf of companies that she owned or controlled, prosecutors said. VanPelt 49, lied about payroll expenses and the number of people her companies employed.
The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it had recovered about $2.1 million of the $6 million that VanPelt received through the program. It said a bank had also seized and returned an additional $1.6 million. The giant loan program, which ran intermittently from April 2020 to May 2021, relied on banks and other lenders. To speed the lending, the federal government waived much of the vetting that lenders traditionally do on business loans. The program has been highly susceptible to fraud. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin estimated in August that about $76 billion of its $800 billion in loans might have been taken improperly. DOJ has prosecuted more than 150 defendants so far and seized more than $75 million in cash derived from fraudulent loans through the program, along with properties and luxury items. Last month, former New York Jets wide receiver Joshua Bellamy was sentenced to 37 months in prison for fraudulently obtaining more than $1.2 million through the Paycheck Protection Program for a company he owned.