Camden County, NJ, Man Sentenced For Defrauding COVID Relief Programs, Illegally Having Gun
Federal authorities say a man from Camden County has been sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in fraudulently obtaining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) benefits, fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits, and illegally possessing a firearm.
According to U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger, 46-year-old Stephen Bennett 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 felon in possession of a firearm.
In 2020, Bennett conspired with Rhonda Thomas, 38, of Sicklerville, New Jersey, to submit one PPP application and one EIDL application for a company controlled by Bennett. The applications stated 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, revenue, or payroll. Bennett and Thomas also submitted forged tax forms and altered bank statements as part of the PPP loan application.
Sellinger says that based on those misrepresentations, loans were approved in the amount of $510,000. Bennett paid kickbacks of over $150,000 to Thomas and then used the rest of the loan money to pay for 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 provided benefits for individuals who were not eligible for other types of unemployment, such those who were self-employed, independent contractors or gig economy workers. Bennett collected personal identification information (PII), including names, residential addresses, and Social Security numbers, of other individuals and used the PII to submit fraudulent applications 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 9mm semiautomatic "ghost gun" and a magazine loaded with 16 rounds of ammunition.
In addition to the prison term, Bennett was sentenced to five years of supervised release, he was fined $15,000, and was ordered to pay restitution of $942,141.
Thomas pleaded guilty this past summer to one count of bank fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.