Palm Beach Gardens Lawyer Gets Prison Sentence After Pleading Guilty To COVID Relief Fraud
Once again, a new COVID variant threatens to wreak havoc on Americans’ health and finances, but this probably will not mean another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) chaos, like what happened in the spring of 2020. Small business owners have grown wiser and found ways to cope with the uncertainty that COVID and its new permutations can bring, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) has certainly grown wiser when it comes to fact-checking before disbursing loan money. The original PPP program, with its hasty processing of applications, was a recipe for fraud, and in South Florida alone, 20 defendants have been convicted of financial crimes related to PPP fraud, while other investigations are still ongoing. If you are being accused of making false statements on applications for COVID relief or other grant or loan funding, contact a West Palm Beach white collar crime lawyer.
Defendant Confessed to Spending COVID Relief Funds on Personal Purchases
Derek James Acree of Palm Beach Gardens has practiced law in Florida, but he also owns several businesses in the financial holdings sector. Between March and August 2020, Acree and a business partner, whose name is not indicated in the criminal complaint, applied for PPP funding for businesses called National Financial Holdings Inc., NFH Florida LLC, DBA Finova Financial LLC, and National Financial Holding Technology LLC. Some of the companies are incorporated in Delaware. The applications contained false statements about the companies’ revenues, expenses, and number of employees.
Acree received approximately $1.6 million in funding for his businesses. He spent the money on personal purchases, including a boat, a down payment on a new house, remodeling a house he already owned, and jewelry. He also transferred some of the money to bank accounts owned by his friends or relatives.
The investigation into Acree’s PPP applications began when Acree and his business partner Gregory Keough were accused of misleading investors and selling $30 million of unregistered securities from their Cayman Islands-based business. Without admitting wrongdoing, Acree and Keough agreed to return the investors’ money and to pay a $125,000 penalty. As for the PPP fraud case, Acree, 47, pleaded guilty in October 2022 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In January 2023, a court in Palm Beach County handed down a sentence. Acree must serve 41 months in federal prison. He must also pay $1.26 million in restitution and forfeit $1.6 million in assets, equivalent to the amount of COVID relief funding he received based on his fraudulent applications. In financial crimes cases, it is common for courts to order defendants to pay restitution to people who suffered financial losses because of the defendants’ actions, to compensate them for the money they lost by falling victim to fraud.
Contact a West Palm Beach White Collar Crimes Lawyer Today
Attorney William Wallshein has more than 38 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County. Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.