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Woman with Jamaican heritage gets US prison time on fraud rap

Woman with Jamaican heritage gets US prison time on fraud rap

Posted  146 Views updated 8 months ago

Damara Holness, former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus in the United States has been sentenced to 20 months in a federal prison after she pleaded guilty to wire fraud.

She was also sentenced to five years supervised release after her prison time and is to pay back the US$300,000 she defrauded from the Payroll Protection Payment, a congressional programme designed to help small businesses weather the effects of the COVID pandemic.

Holness was charged with one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud in August.

She had faced up to 20-years in prison.

Initially, Holness pleaded not guilty but in November last year, Holness accepted a plea deal on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

She entered the guilty plea one day after the democratic party primary for the 20th congressional seat which saw her father, Jamaican Dale Holness losing a tight race for the seat that takes in parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

As part of her guilty plea, she admitted to lying about the financial needs of her company, Plantation Consulting, to qualify for a federal Paycheck Protection Programme loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration as part of a massive relief package approved by congress.

Holness was originally to be sentenced on January 20, nine days after a special election to fill the vacant congressional seat in the 20th congressional district that her father was running to fill.

But her sentencing took place on the last day of January instead.

Mr Holness, speaking after his daughter's arrest, said he had nothing to do with her business dealings and distanced himself from her troubles.

The single mother is among thousands of small businesses who turned to the federal programme for help during the pandemic.

The US$650 billion programme, part of the CARES Act, is credited with keeping many small businesses opened during the height of the pandemic.

But it has also spawn dozens of fraud cases in South Florida and across the country.

The federal criminal complaint lodged against Ms. Holness her said that she misrepresented the number of employees in her company and the amount paid out in salaries.

On her loan application, Ms. Holness said that her company employed 18 people and paid a monthly salary bill of some $120,000.

Her loan application was reviewed and approved by a bank in Georgia.

But she had zero staff and no payroll expenses.

The funds were wired to her company's account and the federal complaint said that with receipt of the funds she went about creating a false paper trail to make it appear that the funds were spent on legitimate approved expenses.

The complaint further alleged that checks were made payable to individuals who cashed the checks and returned the funds to Ms. Holness.

They were paid hundreds of dollars for performing this service.

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