Camden County, NJ, man convicted of defrauding COVID programs

Federal authorities say a Camden County man has been sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in fraudulently obtaining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) benefits and economic disaster loans ( EIDL), fraudulent receipt of unemployment benefits and illegal possession of a firearm.

According to US attorney Philip Sellinger, Stephen Bennett, 46, of Berlin, a previously convicted felon, had pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud conspiracy, one count of wire fraud and one count of being a criminal in possession of a firearm.

In 2020, Bennett conspired with Rhonda Thomas, 38, of Sicklerville, New Jersey, to submit a PPP application and an EIDL application for a company controlled by Bennett. The applications indicated that the company had 16 employees, gross revenues of $1.73 million and an average monthly payroll of $144,000, when in fact the company had no employees, revenues or payroll. Bennett and Thomas also submitted fake tax forms and altered bank statements as part of the PPP loan application.

The seller says that based on these misrepresentations, loans were approved for an amount of $510,000. Bennett paid bribes of more than $150,000 to Thomas, then used the rest of the loan money to pay his personal expenses.

Also in 2020, Bennett defrauded the Pennsylvania Department of Labor by submitting 74 unemployment insurance claims under a temporary federal unemployment insurance program that offered benefits to people who were not eligible for unemployment benefits. other types of unemployment, such as self-employed, independent contractors or gig economy workers. Bennett collected personally identifiable information (PII), including the names, residential addresses and social security numbers, of other people and used the PII to submit fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, resulting in the payment of $425,339 in benefits to Bennett.

In May 2021, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Bennett’s home and found a semi-automatic 9mm “ghost pistol” and a magazine loaded with 16 rounds.

In addition to the prison sentence, Bennett was sentenced to five years of probation, he was fined $15,000 and was ordered to pay restitution of $942,141.

Thomas pleaded guilty last summer to one count of bank fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering and is expected to be sentenced next month.

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