Lehigh Acres Couple Sentenced To Prison For COVID Relief Fraud
U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Barber has sentenced Amber Rewis Bruey (35, Lehigh Acres) to four years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and illegal monetary transactions. Her husband and co-conspirator, Anthony James Bruey, was sentenced to four years and three months in federal prison for the same offenses. Mr. and Ms. Bruey had pleaded guilty on February 4, 2022, and March 16, 2022, respectively.
According to court documents, between April and June 2020, the Brueys conspired to submit a total of 26 fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications to Small Business Administration (SBA) approved lenders, loan processing companies, and the SBA.
The applications contained numerous false and fraudulent representations, including the applicant’s dates of operation, payroll, gross revenues, total number of employees, and the criminal histories of the applicants or business owners. The Brueys also submitted false and fraudulent tax documents to qualify for the loans.
The Brueys’ false and fraudulent representations caused PPP lenders and the SBA to approve 12 of the loans and issue a total of $881,058.35 in PPP and EIDL funds. The Brueys then unlawfully used the funds to purchase a $211,457 residence in North Carolina, a 2019 GMC Yukon SUV, a 2020 Honda Talon, and to make a $23,566 restitution payment as a condition of probation in a criminal court case for Amber Bruey. The Brueys were ordered to forfeit all of these items and property, as well as to pay restitution in the amount of $881,659.35.
“The Brueys used CARES Act funds as their personal ATM. They bought cars and a residence, and used the funds to make a restitution payment in another criminal case,” said Brian Payne, special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Tampa Field Office. “IRS-CI special agents are committed to stamping out fraud and ensuring that CARES Act funds are used for their intended purpose.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted March 2020. It is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.
The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of one percent. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if the business spends the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and uses at least a certain percentage of the loan toward payroll expenses.
The EIDL program is designed to provide economic relied to small businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. EIDL proceeds can be used to cover a wide array of working capital and normal operating expenses, such as continuation of 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.
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Trent Reichling. The forfeiture was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Suzanne Nebesky.