Florida man gets 3 years and 6 months for COVID-19 relief fraud

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison for fraudulently raising more than $800,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.

Louis Thornton III, 63, of St. Petersburg, was sentenced in federal court in Tampa on Friday, court records show. He pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud. He must also repay the money he received.

According to court documents, Thornton submitted fraudulent applications in 2020 for Economic Disaster Loans and Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Administration on behalf of several defunct companies.

The documents said Thornton’s claims fraudulently claimed the businesses were operational and had suffered economic harm from the pandemic. Thornton obtained a total of $814,632.50 and used the money to invest in stocks, futures and commodities, the documents show.

The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in small business forgivable loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief program that became federal law in 2020.

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