Miami, Florida – A former South Florida banker was sentenced this week to 42 months in prison for participating in two frauds: the first, a scheme to steal more than $ 60 million from investors and producers at the fundraising for Broadway films and shows; the second, concealing his criminal history on COVID-19 relief loan applications.
Benjamin Rafael, 31, of South Florida, has previously admitted his role in legitimizing a sophisticated film finance fraud scheme. Rafael pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1349 (Case No. 19-CR-20447).
According to court records, Rafael’s co-defendants, Benjamin McConley and Jason Van Eman, have presented themselves as film producers and financiers. In these roles, McConley and Van Eman are said to have offered to provide funding to investors and producers seeking funds to produce films, theatrical performances and for other projects. Indictment accuses McConley and Van Eman of promising victims that in return for victims’ cash contributions, McConley would “match” the contributions and use the combined funds to secure funding from southern financial institutions. from Florida and elsewhere.
As part of the scheme, McConley and Van Eman recruited Rafael, then a bank employee, to deceive the victims about the safety of their funds, it is alleged. During the scheme, McConley and Van Eman repeatedly asked Rafael to falsely assure victims that their contributions or loans had been “matched” as promised in the funding agreements, according to court documents.
According to the indictment, the victims sent tens of millions of dollars to accounts controlled by the defendants on the basis of these false statements and promises. In truth, the lobbyists have never “matched” the contributions of the victims as promised in the funding agreements. Instead, they stole victims ‘money by transferring the funds to their personal and business bank accounts, often within days of victims’ contributions or loans, according to court documents.
Following his indictment and guilty plea in Case No.19-CR-20447, Rafael submitted several requests to various banks for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Loans in the Event of economic disaster (EIDL). In these requests, he concealed the fact that he had already pleaded guilty in Case No. 19-CR-20447.
As a result of these fraudulent PPP and EIDL requests, Rafael was charged with making false statements to a financial institution, in violation of Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1014 (Case # 21- CR-20161). Rafael pleaded guilty to PPP fraud earlier this week. In the same court appearance, Rafael was convicted of his conduct in both cases during joint sentencing proceedings.
In addition to the combined 42-month prison sentence, Rafael was ordered to pay restitution to victims, confiscate money and real estate attributable to the fraud schemes and serve a five-year supervised release sentence.
Co-accused Benjamin McConley had previously pleaded guilty in Case No. 19-CR-20447 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and is expected to be sentenced on September 14, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. by the judge of Raag Singhal district. Co-accused Jason Van Eman is due to stand trial on August 30, 2021.
Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite of the US Small Business Administration , Office of Inspector General (SBA-OIG), Investigation Division, Eastern Regional Office, made the announcement.
The FBI Miami and the SBA-OIG have investigated these matters. The 2019 case is being pursued by Deputy U.S. Prosecutors Christopher Browne and Elizabeth Young. The 2021 case was continued by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lacee Monk. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marx Calderon is responsible for asset forfeiture in both cases.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses for job maintenance and certain other expenses, through the PPP.
The PPP allows small businesses and other eligible organizations to receive loans with a two-year term and an interest rate of 1%. The proceeds of the PPP loan are to be used by businesses on salary costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. PPP allows for the forgiveness of interest and principal on the PPP loan if the company spends the loan proceeds on those expenses within a specified time after receiving the proceeds and uses at least a certain percentage of the PPP loan proceeds on the expenses. salaries. .
The EIDL program is designed to provide economic relief to small businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of income. Proceeds from EIDL can be used to cover a wide range of working capital and normal operating expenses, such as continued health care benefits, rent, utilities, and fixed debt payments. If an applicant also obtains a loan under the PPP, the EIDL funds cannot be used for the same purpose as the PPP funds.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Working Group to mobilize the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to combat and prevent the pandemic fraud. The Working Group strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable national and international criminal actors and assists agencies responsible for administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by scaling up and integrating mechanisms coordination, identifying resources and techniques for uncovering fraudulent actors and their programs, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
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 Enforcement (NCDF) hotline at 866-720 -5721 or via the NCDF online complaint form at: https: // www .justice.gov / disaster-fraud / ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
A copy of this press release is available on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fla.
Court documents and related information are available on the South Florida District Court website at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov .