The Department of Justice has charged NFL free agent Joshua Bellamy with wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy charges over his alleged role in a scheme to obtain more than $24 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans as part of the Cares Act.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida say Bellamy, 31, worked with a man named Phillip Augustin to obtain the loan. Augustin allegedly obtained a fraudulent PPP loan for his talent management company using falsified documents and then helped others, including Bellamy, do the same for their companies, receiving a kickback in return. Prosecutors allege that Bellamy himself obtained a PPP loan of $1,246,565 for his company, Drip Entertainment LLC, and then used that money to purchase more than $104,000 in luxury goods at retailers such as Dior and Gucci. He also spent $62,774 of the loan proceeds at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., and withdrew more than $302,000.
According to a PPP database maintained by the Small Business Administration, which regulates the loan program, Drip Entertainment claimed to have 47 employees on its loan application. A search of the Florida Division of Corporations database shows that Drip Entertainment was registered as a limited liability company under Bellamy’s name in September 2018 and filed for reinstatement only on Wednesday.
The scheme involving Augustin and Bellamy included 10 other defendants who prepared at least 90 fraudulent PPP applications for more than $24 million in loans, prosecutors allege.
Bellamy, a wide receiver who entered the NFL in 2012, played in seven games last season for the New York Jets, catching two passes for 20 yards but spending most of his time on special teams before a shoulder injury ended his season in November.
The Jets released him from the reserve/PUP list on Tuesday after signing him to a two-year, $5 million contract in 2019. Bellamy had his most productive season in 2017 with the Chicago Bears, starting seven games and catching 24 passes for one touchdown.
In all, federal prosecutors have charged 57 people with trying to steal $175 million in taxpayer-backed PPP loans, which are implemented by banks and financial technology companies, The loans became available for business owners and nonprofit groups to pay their employees in early April, soon after the novel coronavirus pandemic began to crash the U.S. economy, and funds have been disbursed with relatively little vetting.
More charges are expected to be filed in the coming months and years, federal prosecutors predict.
“The PPP program represented critical help at a critical time,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt told reporters Thursday. “Unfortunately, the crisis brings out not only those that try to help others, but those who try to take advantage of the crisis for personal gain.”
A number of sports leagues, teams and businesses owned by prominent athletes have received PPP loans, though some returned the money after that news was publicized. The loans may be forgiven if companies and nonprofits show that the money helped save jobs during the pandemic.