Charleston, South Carolina — Lori Hammond, 53 of Summerville, Catherine (“Cassie”) Needham, 36, of Manning, Jontrell Wright, 35, of Holly Hill, and Christopher Conrad, 39, of Holly Hill, have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud, in connection with their roles in fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in PPP loans.
Evidence presented to the Court showed that from in or around June 2020 through around January 2021, Lori Hammond caused multiple materially fraudulent PPP loan applications to be submitted to federally insured financial institutions on behalf of herself and her co-conspirators. In these loan applications, Hammond used the identity of a deceased individual, misrepresented the number of employees and payroll expenses of the entities seeking the loans, attached fraudulent tax documents, and made numerous other false and misleading statements. As part of the conspiracy, Hammond assisted Needham, Conrad, and Wright by filling out the loan application documents with materially false and fraudulent information and then submitting them to an individual in California. The individual in California would in turn submit the fraudulent loan applications to financial institutions in exchange for a fee. Based on the false representations and submissions in the applications, the approved PPP lenders funded the PPP loans. After the funds were deposited into the respective accounts, Hammond, Wright, Needham, and Conrad used the funds for non-qualifying, non-business-related purposes, including homes, property, cars, and other personal purchases.
In total, the members of the conspiracy fraudulently obtained $4,721,638.50 in PPP loan funds.
The defendants all face a maximum penalty of twenty years in federal prison. They also face a fine of up to $250,000, restitution, and 3 years of supervision to follow the term of imprisonment. United States District Judge David C. Norton accepted the guilty plea and will sentence the defendants after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the United States Probation Office.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior 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 (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Limehouse is prosecuting the case.