Former JetBlue employee pleads guilty to COVID-19 loan fraud: Feds

Former JetBlue employee pleads guilty to defrauding the federal government and stealing nearly $1.5 million of COVID-19 relief funding. (QNS/File)

A former JetBlue employee from Jamaica is the last of seven conspirators convicted for stealing nearly $1.5 million in fraudulently obtained COVID-19 small business loans.

Keily Nunez, 42, pleaded guilty on Aug. 23 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with false statements he made to obtain loans for himself and his co-conspirators pursuant to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Nunez previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud and he and his co-defendants face up to 20 years in prison at sentencing, according to federal prosecutors.

“Each of the defendants admitted to their part in stealing nearly $1.5 million from a government program designed to help struggling small businesses and families survive the pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. “This office will continue to aggressively prosecute those who seek to enrich themselves by abusing government programs.”

According to court documents, between April 2020 and November 2020, the defendants appealed for EIDL loans for 11 separate entities. In those applications, the defendants falsely represented the number of employees associated with the entities and misstated the gross revenues for the entities for the 12 months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, Nunez submitted a loan application to the Small Business Association (SBA) in April 2020 claiming that co-defendant Fanny Plasencia, also a Jamaica resident, was the chief operating officer and Nunez was the manager of FI USA Consulting LLC (FI USA). In the application, Nunez falsely claimed that FI USA had 42 employees and gross revenues of $672,137 for the relevant period. The SBA approved that application and wired $149,900 to FI USA’s bank account, according to federal prosecutors.

In contrast to the claims made in the application, New York Department of Labor records showed that FI USA never reported having any employees. IRS records further revealed that FI USA never filed a tax return since its formation in 2017. There is no evidence that the EIDL funds provided to FI USA were used for business purposes.

Based on the defendants’ false representations, the SBA approved approximately $1.5 million in loans that were deposited into the defendants’ bank accounts.

In addition to making false statements to obtain the loans, Nunez and his co-defendants did not use the relief funding for ongoing business expenses as the EIDL program requires, according to prosecutors. Instead, they withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from bank accounts that had received EIDL loan funds.

“Nunez and his co-conspirators fleeced the government to the tune of over $1.5 million, taking advantage of programs designed to keep small businesses afloat during a time of unprecedented economic volatility,” said Homeland Security Investigations New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel. “Since the early days of the COVID-19 global pandemic, HSI has been committed to uncovering pandemic fraud and holding accountable those who take advantage of tragedy to turn a profit.”

Nunez is also charged in a separate case for scheming to defraud Long Island City-based JetBlue for more than $1 million, along with three co-defendants.

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