Hilo man sentenced to 42 months in prison for defrauding COVID-19 relief programs
A Hilo man was sentenced in federal court to 42 months in federal prison for wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud the federal government of program funds intended for COVID-19-related relief.
Carey Mills, 47, pleaded guilty to a single-count information on May 17, 2022. In addition to a term of imprisonment, the Chief US District Judge Derrick K. Watson also imposed a five-year term of supervised release and ordered Mills to pay restitution to the Small Business Administration in the amount of $937,575.
The Paycheck Protection Program is a federal loan program intended to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them with funds to cover certain payroll costs, including benefits, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan is a separate federal program providing low-interest loans and grants to small businesses that experience substantial financial disruptions due to federally-declared disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to court documents and information presented in court, from May to August 2020, Mills submitted multiple applications for PPP and EIDL funds on behalf of three businesses under his control, Kanaka Maoli Hoʻokupu Center, New Way Horizon Travel, and Uilani Kawailehua Foundation, each time utilizing interstate wires.
To support the applications, court documents indicate Mills submitted fraudulent payroll documents and IRS forms, which included false employee and wage payment records. As a result of these applications, Mills received $937,575 in the form of three forgivable PPP loans and one EIDL grant to which he was not entitled, according to information presented in court.
At the sentencing hearing, the prosecution argued that Mills used the federal relief money to fund personal expenses, including the purchase of eight vehicles and two residential properties. When Chief Judge Watson imposed the sentence, he said: “Stealing one million dollars of federal funds is no joke.”
“Carey Mills stole federal funds that provided a lifeline to our small businesses struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said US Attorney Clare E. Connors. “While this is the first COVID-19 program fraud sentencing in the District of Hawaiʻi, the Department is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who, like Mills, harmed both small businesses in need of these PPP and EIDL funds as well as the taxpayers who supported these programs.”
“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration aggressively pursues those who attempt to abuse the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and its Paycheck Protection Program, which was created to assist legitimate business owners during the pandemic,” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “We appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office to ensure individuals engaged in criminal activity are held to account.”
The investigation was conducted by the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, together with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of the Inspector General, the Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General, and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant US Attorneys Rebecca M. Perlmutter and Gregg Paris Yates handled the prosecution.
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.