Boulder Man Pleads Guilty to Covid Fraud

Boulder Man Pleads Guilty to Covid Fraud

DENVER – The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announces Russell Bryant Lester, age 41, of Boulder, has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for taking money from pandemic relief funds by filing false applications.

On March 27, 2020, the President of the United States signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided emergency assistance, administered by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), to small business owners affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The two primary sources of funding for small businesses were the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.

According to the plea agreement, from March 2020, through August 2020, Lester made false statements to obtain EIDLs and PPP loans. During the same period, Lester also made false statements to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment about not being employed in any capacity in order to collect pandemic unemployment benefits from the state.

 The SBA funded four EIDLs for a total of $217,400, awarded three grants through the EIDL program totaling $16,000, and funded two PPP applications in an amount totaling $317,975. A third PPP loan application—requesting a loan of $297,200—was not funded.

In April 2020, Lester applied for pandemic unemployment benefits from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. In his application for unemployment benefits, he stated that he was not currently working or receiving pay as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that he had not received pay since January 15, 2020. Subsequently, between April and October 2020, Lester completed weekly certifications wherein he falsely stated he did not work or receive any money or payments from an employer. As a result of these false certifications, he collected $17,578 in pandemic unemployment benefits from the state of Colorado. Lester knew these certifications to be false: in reality, he received $551,175 in COVID-relief funds in this period, some of which he used to pay himself. Lester spent portions of EIDL and PPP loan proceeds for non-eligible expenses, including paying old debts unrelated to the businesses receiving the loans and extending high-interest loans to other individuals.

Judge Daniel D. Domenico presided over the change of plea hearing on November 15, 2022. The defendant will be sentenced on February 7, 2023.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Denver Division. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Craig Fansler, Sarah Weiss and Rebecca Weber.

CASE NUMBER: 21-cr-00230

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