Miami, Florida – Seth A. Bernstein, owner of Florida-based jet charter All in Jets LLC dba JetReady has agreed to pay $ 287,055 to settle allegations he misappropriated loan proceeds the Payment Protection Program (PPP) for personal expenses. JetReady is a jet charter operator headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The United States alleged that Bernstein, on behalf of JetReady, applied for and received a PPP loan totaling $ 1,173,382 in April 2020. Within one day of receiving the loan proceeds, Bernstein allegedly embezzled 98 $ 929 in funds to pay for personal expenses unrelated to the business. expenses. JetReady has since filed for bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York.
“The Paycheck Protection Program was enacted over a year ago to help small businesses and their employees financially survive the COVID-19 pandemic,” Acting US Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez said for the South Florida District. “Since this program and others under the CARES Act were launched, our office has prioritized the investigation and prosecution of those who illegally seek to profit from the global health crisis and programs implemented. place to help those in need. “
“Paycheck Protection Program loans were intended to provide critical relief to small businesses so that they can retain their employees and keep their doors open,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the ministry’s civil division. of Justice. “We will ensure that those who have abused these taxpayer-funded loans and denied other eligible businesses access to such assistance are held accountable.”
“The Paycheck Protection Program is intended to provide a lifeline for small businesses across the country and its employees,” said Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the SBA. “The OIG will aggressively investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the SBA’s pandemic response programs. I would like to thank the Department of Justice for its commitment to achieving this settlement.
“The result in this case is the product of increased efforts by federal agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and other federal law enforcement agencies, to detect abuse of the law. paycheck protection program, prosecute individuals and businesses who engage in such abuses. and protect the integrity of the PPP program, ”said SBA General Counsel Peggy Delinois Hamilton.
Congress enacted the PPP on March 29, 2020, as part of the CARES Act, to provide emergency financial support to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorized billions in loans to small businesses struggling to pay their employees and other business expenses. Under the PPP, eligible businesses could obtain loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Businesses were required to spend the loan proceeds on employee compensation, rent or mortgage and other specified expenses and, depending on their use of the loan proceeds, were eligible for loan forgiveness, up to up to the total loan amount.
Today’s civil settlement includes the resolution of claims filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by Victoria Hablitzel, a former employee of JetReady. Under these provisions, a private party can sue on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of any recovery. Ms. Hablitzel will receive $ 57,411. The case is captioned US ex rel. Hablitzel v. All in Jets, LLC and Seth A. Bernstein, n ° 20-cv-61410 (SD Fla.).
The resolution in this case is the result of a coordinated effort between the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Commercial Litigation Division of the Civil Division, Fraud Section, with assistance from the general council office of the SBA and the BIG.
This case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Weinkle of the Southern District of Florida and Trial Attorney Jonathan Gold of the Civil Division.
On May 17, the Attorney General created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to mobilize the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to combat and prevent fraud linked to the pandemic. 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 web complaint form at: https: // www. .justice.gov / disaster-fraud / ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
The claims resolved by the settlement are only allegations, and there has been no determination of liability.