An airman from Shaw Air Force Base and an Army reservist deployed overseas were among four recently charged in a scheme to steal millions of dollars of COVID-19 relief loans, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.
Senior Airman Kehinde Mubarak Ladepo, 26, Army Reserve Lt. Maxwell Okobi, 24, and two others were charged for allegedly stealing $1 million in government pandemic relief loans and attempting to swindle another million more.
The other defendants are Jacob Liticker, who led the scam, and an ex-service member named Ganiyu Victor Ladepo, whose relationship to the airman is not public at this time, prosecutor Derek Shoemake told Military Times.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act’s Paycheck Protection Program, which ended in May last year, offered small businesses assistance through forgivable loans to manage costs attributed to the pandemic.
Beginning in 2020, the group created false PPP loan applications for nearly 100 people across the country, typically for amounts around $20,000, according to the indictment. The schemers would then help individuals submit false information to the lenders. In exchange for the assistance, the group received a portion of the stolen funds.
“PPP loans were finite funds designed to help businesses stay afloat amid unprecedented times and extraordinary challenges,” U.S. attorney Adair F. Boroughs said in the news release. “Every dollar wrongly taken from this taxpayer-funded program was a dollar that could not go to a legitimate business in need.”
This is not the only time service members have tried to abuse the COVID-19 loan application system for gain. In January, an airman and his wife admitted to cheating the system for millions, and in July an Army warrant officer pleaded guilty to similarly trying to defraud the government.
Ladepo, who entered active-duty service in Aug. 2019, works as a fitness and sports journeyman in the 20th Force Support Squadron, according to Capt. Madeline Krpan, a spokesperson from the 20th Fighter Wing.
Okobi, who entered service in Oct. 2017, is assigned to Army Reserve Sustainment Command, according to his service record, which was obtained by Military Times. He is currently deployed to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait as a part of Operation Spartan Shield, the news release said.
“These arrests are representative of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) steadfast commitment to hold accountable those who perpetrate fraud against the Department of Defense, even when those perpetrators are within the ranks of the Armed Forces,” said Chris Dillard, the special agent in charge from the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office.
Each of the defendants faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, plus fines and restitution.
All of the defendants have been arraigned and are out on bond, Shoemake said, but Liticker, who was arrested in Texas, is also scheduled to be arraigned in South Carolina on Nov. 22.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media