A 30-year-old man from Texas has been sentenced to nine years in prison after federal authorities said he lied to get over $1.6 million in COVID-19 relief money through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Officials say Lee Price III, of Houston, then used that money to buy a Lamborghini Urus, a Ford F-350 truck, a Rolex watch and more. He also paid off a residential property loan.
Price’s sentencing comes after he pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud and money laundering in connection to the COVID-19 fraud scheme, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a Nov. 29 news release.
“Mr. Price recognizes that the stiff sentence imposed...by Judge Gilmore was triggered both by his fraudulent conduct in this PPP loan case and by the rather ragged criminal history he brought to the table,” defense attorney Tom Berg said in a statement to McClatchy News. “The Court found that he did fully accept responsibility by unconditionally pleading guilty to the indictment. The government has recovered substantial cash and other luxury assets that it will forfeit to reduce restitution. Mr. Price hopes that others will learn from his reckoning that there is no easy money. He has the balance of the 110-month sentence to reflect, repent and rebuild his misspent life.”
Price is accused of submitting fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of 713 Construction LLC, Price Enterprises Holdings LLC, and Price Logistic Services LLC.
“Through these loan applications, Price sought over $2.6 million and actually obtained over $1.6 million in PPP loan funds,” officials say in the news release. “Price falsely represented the number of employees and payroll expenses in each of the PPP loan applications. To support the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Price also submitted fraudulent tax records and other materials”
The Department of Justice, alongside other law enforcement agencies, seized over $700,000 of the $1.6 million in funds that Price received.
What are PPP loans?
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, were created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Having ended May 31, the program was designed to help “businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis.”
In Texas, 559,159 PPP loans totaling $22,263,165,930 net dollars were approved in 2021 through the program end date. In total, 11,823,594 PPP loans totaling $799,832,866,520 were granted.
Since then, the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section has prosecuted more than 150 people in 95 criminal cases connected to PPP schemes, according to the news release. Officials say they have “seized over $75 million in cash proceeds derived from fraudulently obtained PPP funds, as well as numerous real estate properties and luxury items purchased with such proceeds.”