22 people charged in connection to Atlanta-based $11M federal PPP loan fraud scheme

ATLANTA — Twenty-two people have been charged in a federal scheme to defraud the government from taking out false Paycheck Protection Program loans, and 11 of those people are from the metro Atlanta area.

The U.S. Department of Justice say that approximately $11.1 million in PPP loans were taken and the funds were then used to buy luxury vehicles, jewelry, and other personal items.

So far, six people, including the scheme’s mastermind, Darrell Thomas, have pleaded guilty. Thomas is from Duluth.

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“So many businesses needed federal emergency assistance to stay afloat during a pandemic, and these defendants allegedly misdirected millions of dollars of that assistance money to their own pockets for luxury items,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta.

According to prosecutors, the defendants allegedly submitted, or assisted in submitting, PPP loan applications for 14 businesses between April and August 2020. The loan applications for each company were between $700,000 and $850,000.

The applications stated that each business had between 59 and 69 employees in February 2020 and averaged approximately $295,000 to $342,000 in monthly payroll expenses.

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During the investigation, the U.S. seized nearly $4 million in PPP loan proceeds, four luxury vehicles, and several jewelry items.

Defendants from the metro area include:

  • Meghan Thomas, 32, of Alpharetta - charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and false statements to a federally insured financial institution in connection with her involvement in several businesses’ loans
  • Jesika Blakely, 34, of Atlanta - charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, false statements to a federally insured financial institution, and money laundering in connection with her involvement in several businesses’ loans
  • John Gaines a/k/a Marty Gaines, 56, of Marietta - charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, false statements to a federally insured financial institution, and money laundering in connection with the loan obtained by Gaines Reservation and Travel
  • Charles Petty a/k/a Charles Knight, 48, of Atlanta - charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, false statements to a federally insured financial institution, and money laundering in connection with the loan obtained by Transportation Management Services Inc.
  • Jerry Baptiste, 43, of College Park - charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, false statements to a federally insured financial institution, and money laundering in connection with the loan obtained by Transportation Management Services Inc.
  • Charles Hill IV, 45, of Norcross - charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with the loan obtained by his business, Infinite Education Services Inc.
  • Teldrin Foster, 39, of Decatur - charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the loan obtained by Bellator Phront Group Inc.
  • Denesseria Slaton, 52, of Stockbridge - charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud in connection with the loan obtained by Transportation Management Services Inc.
  • Carla Jackson, 53, of Tucker - previously charged by indictment on August 4, 2020 with money laundering in connection with laundering the proceeds of Gaines Reservation and Travel’s PPP loan.
  • Darrell Thomas, 35, of Duluth - pleaded guilty on June 16, 2021 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud and one count of money laundering. As part of his guilty plea, Darrell Thomas admitted his participation in fraudulent conduct totaling more than $14.7 million, including more than $11.1 million in fraudulent PPP loans, more than $1.15 million in fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and more than $2.4 million in fraudulent automobile loans. He also agreed to forfeit various assets, including more than $2.1 million in seized funds, three luxury vehicles – a 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S65AMG, a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover, and a 2017 Acura NSX – and several items of jewelry, including a gold Rolex.
  • Andre Lee Gaines, 67, of Dallas - pleaded guilty on June 17, 2021 to one count of making false statements to the FBI in connection with the loan obtained by his business, Gaines Reservation and Travel.

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Thomas’ sentencing is set for September 15. Gaines is set to be sentenced on October 6.