Ex-Mayoral Candidate Convicted in $1.2 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud
In a stunning turn of events, Kelli Prather, a woman who once aspired to become Cincinnati's mayor has been found guilty on all 14 counts she faced in a federal court in Cincinnati. The charges stem from her involvement in defrauding two federal programs designed to provide relief to small businesses during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The jury's decision marks the fall from grace for Prather, who just two years ago harbored political ambitions, as she now faces the possibility of up to 30 years in prison, per The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The conviction and charges
After days of testimony and deliberation, the jury delivered a unanimous verdict, finding Prather guilty of bank fraud and wire fraud, making false statements on a loan application, and identity theft. These charges were related to her attempts between June and November 2020 to secure COVID-19 Relief funds. Prather submitted applications that contained multiple false statements, seeking over $1.2 million for six businesses she allegedly owned. However, investigations revealed that most of these businesses were not even operational at the time of the applications.
Prosecutors also brought to light the inconsistency in Prather's financial claims. One of her applications stated that she had earned nearly $1 million from her businesses, specifically from Rich Glo Management during a seven-month period. Simultaneously, she was reportedly receiving unemployment assistance from the state. Moreover, despite claiming substantial revenue for her businesses, no federal taxes were reported or collected from these entities between 2017 and 2020.
The political aspirations
At the center of this case is a woman who, until recently, saw herself as a serious contender for political office. Prather, 51, testified in her defense during the trial, revealing her past endeavors to secure various positions, including running for the U.S. Senate, Cincinnati City Council, Hamilton County Commission, and Cincinnati mayor between 2016 and 2021. She presented herself as a social justice and civil rights activist, further adding to her public persona.
The attorney's defense
In response to the jury's decision, Prather's attorney characterized the charges as stemming from "mistakes and missteps." However, the evidence presented during the trial painted a different picture, showing a deliberate attempt to obtain funds intended for struggling small businesses, which she was not entitled to.
The implications and sentencing
The consequences of Prather's conviction could be severe. While a sentencing date has not been set, she may face a maximum of 30 years in prison for the bank fraud charge alone. The court will take into account the severity of the offenses, the impact on the victims, and her history when determining the appropriate punishment.
Other COVID-19 Relief Fund fraud cases
More than $200 billion in Covid relief loans and grants were distributed to potentially fraudulent actors which accounts for almost one-fifth of all Small Business Administration funds disbursed in the U.S., as reported by NBC News. In a similar shocking case that recently came to light, a medical doctor and his wife from Las Vegas are facing charges for allegedly engaging in a fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $1.3 million in COVID-19 pandemic relief loans. The relief funds were meant to provide crucial support to businesses affected by the economic impact of the pandemic but the accused couple allegedly misused them for personal gain (investment purposes, like purchasing stocks and cryptocurrency). Hopefully, after these trials, the trust in relief programs will not be further eroded by the actions of a few unscrupulous individuals.
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