Centerton man charged with COVID-relief fraud

Regional News

TULSA, Okla. (KNWA/KFTA) — A project manager at Walmart was charged with COVID-19 relief fraud on Thursday, according to the release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Oklahoma.

Benjamin Hayford, 32, of Centerton, was charged in a federal criminal complaint today for allegedly filing fraudulent bank loan applications for more than $8 million in forgivable loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

He is charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements to a financial institution, and making false statements to the Small Business Administration (SBA).

“It is disgraceful that anyone would exploit loans meant to protect America’s small business owners during this public health crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. “Unfortunately, COVID-fraudsters are out there and active.”

Hayford allegedly sought millions of dollars in forgivable loans guaranteed by the SBA from multiple banks by claiming fictitious payroll expenses. He supported his applications by allegedly providing lenders with “fraudulent payroll documentation purporting to establish payroll expenses that were, in fact, non-existent.”

In addition, Hayford represented to a financial institution that the Limited Liability Partnership for which he applied for relief was established in January 2020 and was operating as of Feb. 15, 2020.  In fact, a search of the contents of Hayford’s email account revealed that Hayford did not create the partnership until April 2020, several days before he began applying for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.  

According to the release:

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP.  In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1 percent.  PPP loan proceeds must be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.  The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within eight weeks of receipt and use at least 75 percent of the forgiven amount for payroll.  

A federal criminal complaint is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  

Department of Justice – U.S. Attorney’s Office – Northern District of Oklahoma

A Walmart spokesperson clarified that the charges are not related to his work at the company, issuing the following statement:

“Mr. Hayford has been suspended without pay under our arrested associate policy and no longer has access to any company property or systems. The criminal charges filed by the Department of Justice are not connected to Walmart or Mr. Hayford’s work for the company. Because this is a federal criminal charge, we are referring additional questions to the Justice Department.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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