CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Today, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced the results of the U.S. Attorney’s Office latest public legal action in its ongoing efforts to combat fraud schemes seeking to exploit the coronavirus pandemic. A warrant resulting in the seizure of $140,490.34 from a bank account has been unsealed in federal court. Law enforcement seized the funds after determining that the account was used to perpetuate COVID-19 fraud.
Reginald A. DeMatteis, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Charlotte Field Office, joins U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
The affidavit filed in support of the federal warrant alleges that the funds were seized as part of an investigation of a COVID-19 Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program fraud scheme. The alleged scheme implicated a bank account purportedly opened by Oscar Estala, and/or one or more other individuals in the Western District of North Carolina. As alleged in court documents, the bank account identified in the seizure warrant was used to receive approximately $149,900 in funds fraudulently obtained from the SBA, purportedly for a small business named “VR Wesson.” The funds from the SBA are intended to provide financial assistance to qualifying small businesses and individuals impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. As alleged in the unsealed affidavit, law enforcement determined that the account that received the funds was not used to fund a business or employees impacted by COVID-19. Instead, the account was used to make retail and gift card purchases.
The unsealing of the warrant adds to a list of unsealed court documents in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Secret Service, and other federal, state and local law enforcement partners, including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, have coordinated and worked closely to combat fraud related to the coronavirus, and to recover hundreds of thousands in proceeds of such fraud.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the U.S. Secret Service for their work in this case. U.S. Attorney Murray also thanked financial institutions in the Western District of North Carolina for their cooperation and their efforts to detect and report COVID-19 financial fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Bain-Creed, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, is handling the federal warrants.
U.S. Attorney Murray also urged the public to remain alert in detecting COVID-19 fraud and to report suspicious activity to the local authorities, or by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form. Members of the public in the Western District of North Carolina are also encouraged to call 704-344-6222 to reach their local Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.