A Georgia man has been sentenced to federal prison and ordered to pay substantial restitution for leading a conspiracy that stole nearly $2 million in COVID-19 small business relief funding.
Bernard Okojie, 41, of McDonough, Ga., was sentenced to 64 months in prison after being convicted at trial in March of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Money Laundering Conspiracy, said Jill E. Steinberg, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood also ordered Okojie to pay $1,946,283 in restitution, and to serve three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Bernard Okojie devised a complex and far-reaching scheme to steal federal funding intended to provide relief to small businesses struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Steinberg. “This sentence imposes a strong measure of accountability for these blatant acts of fraud.”
As described at trial and in court documents, Okojie used information for non-existent companies to file at least 46 fraudulent applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program loans for himself and others from April 2020 through May of 2021, seeking more than $4.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds. Okojie received nearly $2 million in funding directly, or was paid by other recipients of the fraudulently obtained funding for his work in submitting the EIDL applications on their behalf. Okojie then conspired to launder the fraudulent proceeds to hide the source of the funds.
Funds from the nearly $2 million Okojie and others received through the schemes were used to purchase a home, vehicles, shopping trips to Versace, for personal investments, and a toy poodle. Okojie also was intercepted as he attempted to leave the United States with nearly $40,000 in cash.
“Mr. Okojie chose greed over compassion by fraudulently obtaining funds from the PPP and EIDL programs. He will now spend more than five years in prison and must pay all the money back,” said FBI Savannah’s Senior Supervisory Special Agent Will Clarke. “Theft of government funds will not be tolerated, and prosecuting PPP fraud remains a priority for law enforcement.”
“Lying to gain access to economic stimulus funds will be met with justice,” said SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent-in-Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite. “This sentence showcases that SBA OIG will continue to aggressively pursue evidence of fraud against SBA’s programs to expose wrongdoers’ actions. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for their dedication and commitment to seeing justice served.”
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer A. Stanley and Matthew A. Josephson.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.