Five JetBlue Airways employees were apprehended last Thursday and made an appearance Friday in Brooklyn federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann for wire fraud related to pandemic assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Justice in a press release.
Suspects Fanny Plasenca, 20, and Keily Nunez, 41, are from Jamaica. Nunez’s twin, Keimi Nunez, is from Woodhaven. The remaining suspects, Orlando Sanay, 31, and Michael Pimentel Veloz, 40, are from Elizabeth, NJ.
Special Agent-in-Charge Peter Fitzhugh Homeland Security Investigations in New York and Acting U.S. Attorney Mark J. Lesko of the Eastern District of New York announced the charges.
“As alleged, the defendants brazenly lied and stole more than $1 million in taxpayer funds from a program designed to help small businesses and their employees who were struggling to stay afloat and make ends meet during the pandemic,” said Lesko.
From April 2020 to August 2020, the defendants allegedly applied for Economic Injury Disaster Loans for eight separate entities reporting a false number of employees and misstated gross revenues for the associated firms 12 months prior to the pandemic.
One example of wire fraud includes Sanay allegedly submitting loan applications to the Small Business Administration, an agency that supports entrepreneurs, in July 2020 saying he was the owner and CEO of Sanay Venture Capital LLC, which he claimed had 26 employees, gross revenues of $839,000 and cost of goods sold of $560,000, according to the DOJ.
However, records from the Department of Labor illustrate that SVC has never reported having any employees since its formation in 2014, and the Internal Revenue Service further revealed that Sanay’s firm has never filed a tax return since his business launched seven years ago. There is also no evidence that the EIDL funds received were used for business purposes.
Lesko’s office had “no comment” when asked if Sanay’s firm was always a front because of pending litigation.
On Aug. 4, 2020, Sanay received $139,400 to his personal back account, according to the Eastern District.
Sanay and Keimy Nunez allegedly submitted the application from the IP address of their employer, JetBlue, to the SBA online portal.
JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment on the case or with information as to which of its locations the suspects used to allegedly commit the wire fraud.
If the suspects are found guilty, each faces up to 20 years in prison.
“It’s alleged that the five arrested today schemed to defraud the government by falsely obtaining over one million dollars in loans from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program under the Covid Relief Act,” said Fitzhugh. “This is a team of fraudsters who didn’t just skim from a government agency, but stole much needed relief from the hands of those who depended on it most.”
The HSI said it worked closely with JetBlue Corporate Security, IRS Criminal Investigations and the SBA Office of Inspector General on the case.
“The Biden-Harris Administration and SBA takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard taxpayer dollars and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in federal programs,” said an SBA official. “In recent months, new enhanced checks have been put in place to intensify system validations used to mitigate the occurrence of fraud in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and other programs. In instances of suspected fraud, SBA coordinates closely with the Office of Inspector General, Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies to share information and support criminal investigations.”
If an individual is the victim of identity theft, he or she can go to IDTheft
Records@sba.gov for the agency to review and take appropriate steps to address the matter.
“Our office will continue to ensure that criminals who divert pandemic-related relief to line their own pockets are held accountable for their greed,” said Lesko.