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Charlotte businessman cons feds out of $720,000 with help of Texas co-conspirator

A 35-year-old Charlotte man was sentenced to serve time in prison after fraudulently obtaining $720,000 in COVID relief funds from the federal government.

Evan Agustin Perez helped submit fraudulent applications for coronavirus aid relief loans through the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Relief Disaster Loan, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release Wednesday.

Perez was ordered to serve two years in prison followed by two years of supervised release.

Dena King, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, made the announcement about the sentence and case, which also named Edward Whitaker as co-conspirator.

Together Whitaker and Perez prepared and sent in false information such as an incorrect total number of employees and higher associated payroll costs, which allowed them to get more PPP money. False tax documents were also submitted to inflate monthly payroll disbursements.

Perez pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Whitaker pleaded guilty last year in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina for being part of a money laundering conspiracy by helping people obtain fraudulent coronavirus disaster relief funds. His wife, Schunda Coleman, also pleaded guilty for the same crime, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of N.C.

Perez, Whitaker and others worked on a scheme to defraud the U.S. Small Business Administration and associated lenders by getting COVID relief funds for businesses they controlled or were affiliated with, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Court records show that Whitaker ran Loan Starters, a sham business in Texas. It helped people commit fraud through PPP loan applications and fake documents.

For his part of the scheme, Perez was also ordered to pay $720,079 in restitution to the SBA.

The SBA’s Office of Inspector General investigated the case. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Frick and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Ryan were the prosecutors.

To date, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of N.C. has prosecuted 28 people for defrauding government funding programs.