Political Consultant Charged With Defrauding Federal COVID-19 Relief Program

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WPLG

Miami, Florida – Federal prosecutors have charged 28-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident Damara Holness with lying on a coronavirus relief loan application and fraudulently obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help small businesses financially survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the information filed yesterday in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale, in June 2020, Holness applied for a $300,000 forgivable, federally-guaranteed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan on behalf of Holness Consulting, Inc., a Florida company that she owned. It is alleged that to justify the requested loan amount, Holness claimed in the on-line loan application, and through supporting fraudulent payroll tax forms, that her company employed 18 people and spent an average of $120,000 each month on payroll. In fact, Holness Consulting had zero employees and no payroll expenses. A bank in Georgia approved Holness Consulting’s PPP loan application based on the lies and wired $300,000 to the company’s bank account in Florida, says the information.

Once the money hit the bank account in July 2020, Holness spent the next few months creating a paper trail to make it appear as if Holness Consulting had employees and was spending the PPP money on legitimate, approved expenses, it is alleged. According to the information, Holness issued checks from the company bank account made out to others who agreed, for a fee, to help with the fraud. At Holness’ direction, the people receiving the checks would endorse and return them to Holness. Then, Holness would cash the checks at the company’s bank, give a few hundred dollars to the check endorsers, and keep the rest of the cash for herself – about $1,000 per check, says the information.

Damara Holness is a former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus.

The information charges Holness with conspiring to commit wire fraud. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Holness made her initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick M. Hunt, who sits in Ft. Lauderdale. Holness was released from custody on a $100,000 personal surety bond.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami, announced the charges.

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