Los Angeles Man Stole Over $8.5 Million in Coronavirus Relief Money, Feds Say

A Los Angeles man was arrested and charged on Thursday with fraudulently seeking over $8.5 million in coronavirus relief funds.

Andrew Marnell has been charged with one count of bank fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The criminal complaint alleged that the 40-year-old received approximately $8.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through applications to insured financial institutions, and others, on behalf of different companies.

As part of the federal emergency financial assistance response to the new coronavirus pandemic, the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorized up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses through the PPP.

PPP loans proceeds must have been used by businesses for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.

Court documents said that Marnell, using aliases, submitted a number of fraudulent loan applications making false statements about the companies' respective business operations and payroll expenses. To support these applications, he also submitted fake and altered documents including fake federal tax filings and employee payroll records.

After obtaining the PPP loans, Marnell allegedly transferred the money into his brokerage account to make risky stock market bets. He also gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and other gambling establishments "as recently as last weekend," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

During Thursday's court hearing, prosecutors said they believe Marnell received approximately $9 million in PPP loans — a number that could rise as the investigation continues.

If convicted on the charges, Marnell will face a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kerry Quinn of the Major Frauds Section and DOJ Trial Attorney Scott Armstrong of the Criminal Division's Fraud Section.

The fountains of Bellagio Hotel & Casino launch on June 4, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Andrew Marnell of Los Angeles spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fraudulently obtained PPP loan at the Bellagio "as recently as last weekend," according to the Los Angeles' U.S. Attorney's Office. Ethan Miller/Getty

The Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's Office has filed one other case involving PPP loans.

In May, Hollywood executive William Sadleir was arrested on federal fraud charges that alleged he applied for $1.7 million in federal loans under the program--which were to be used for the operations of Aviron Pictures and their entities--but proceeded to use some of the funds pay off his personal credit card alongside other personal expenses.

"The Paycheck Protection Program was implemented to help small businesses stay afloat during the financial crisis, and we will act swiftly against those who abuse the program for their own personal gain," United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

The U.S. Attorney's Office's Director of Media Relations Thom Mrozek told Newsweek the office has several ongoing investigations in this area and that they expect additional cases to be filed in the coming months.

The PPP named all of its large-dollar loan recipients earlier this month after facing backlash for helping bigger businesses that applied. Groups like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers returned federal funds after being widely criticized for taking financial aid away from smaller businesses trying to stay afloat amid the pandemic.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin also urged private schools with significant endowments that tapped into the federal relief fund to return loans back in May.

According to the latest report from the Small Business Association (SBA), the program has delivered more than $500 billion to over 600,000 small businesses across the country.

The SBA has said they will hold companies "criminally liable" if they fail to meet the program's requirements.