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Social media influencer admits to $1 million U.S. pandemic loan fraud

Social media influencer Danielle Miller appears in a booking photograph in Sarasota

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - A social media influencer and self-proclaimed con artist pleaded guilty on Monday to fraudulently obtaining more than $1 million in COVID-19 pandemic-related loans from the U.S. government that she used to bankroll a lavish lifestyle that she flaunted on Instagram.

Danielle Miller, whose scams in this and other cases were chronicled in a New York Magazine profile last year, appeared before a federal judge in Boston by video from a jail cell to plead guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identify theft charges.

As a part of a plea deal with prosecutors, the 33-year-old agreed to forfeit $1.3 million and serve six years in prison, 16 months of which may overlap with a five-year sentence she received in October in a separate Florida bank fraud case. Her sentencing was set for June 27.

Prosecutors said Miller used the identities of more than 10 people to fraudulently set up bank accounts and obtain more than $1 million in pandemic-related loans intended for small businesses. She used the money for travel and luxury purchases such as a Rolex, a Louis Vuitton bag and Dior shoes, and posted photos on Instagram of herself at luxury hotels in California where she used a bank account in the name of one of her victims.

Originally from New York, Miller is the daughter of a former New York State Bar Association president and a graduate of the prestigious Horace Mann School. She was already facing charges in the separate Florida state court fraud case when she was arrested in May 2021 at a luxury apartment in Miami, where she had moved during the pandemic.

"Honestly, I more so consider myself a con artist than anything," Miller was quoted as saying in the New York Magazine article.

The case is an example of fraud that became rampant as the federal government rushed to distribute more than $5 trillion in relief funds to help people, businesses and local governments affected by the pandemic.

More than 1,000 people have been convicted of defrauding COVID-19 relief programs, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said last month. The White House last week said President Joe Biden plans to ask Congress to provide $1.6 billion in new funding to crack down on fraud tied to the programs.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Will Dunham and Alexia Garamfalvi)