Fake Landlords Indicted In Rental Assistance Fraud In Seattle

Six people indicted on federal charges of rental assistance fraud using fake documents, posing as landlords, to get rental assistance money

Six people have been indicted on federal charges of rental assistance fraud by using fake documents and posing as landlords using fake tenant applications to claim emergency rental assistance money meant to help avoid evictions, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The rental assistance fraud occurred in Seattle where the group is charged with stealing over $2.7 million from the King County rental assistance program designed to give emergency help to renters facing eviction. In addition to the rental assistance fraud, members of the group defrauded or attempted to defraud the unemployment systems in Washington, California, South Carolina, and Nevada.

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Nick Brown, said the 26-count indictment was “a wide-ranging fraud scheme, led by 29-year-old Paradise Williams, of Phoenix.” Two defendants were arrested in Phoenix, a third was arrested in Houston, and three defendants were arrested in Washington State.

Six people indicted on federal charges of rental assistance fraud using fake documents, posing as landlords, to get rental assistance money
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Nick Brown.

“The participants in this fraud were relentless in exploiting pandemic relief programs that were intended to assist small businesses and people who were vulnerable to eviction,” Brown said in the release. “The need for the emergency rental assistance greatly outweighed the funds available, and we know that fraud schemes such as this one stole money that should have gone to those desperately needing help.”

According to the indictment, Williams was the hub in a wheel of rental assistance fraud. She created fake documents and told her accomplices how to pose as landlords and tenants claiming to need rental assistance. Because the program would pay for back rent and future payments, the person posing as the fraudulent landlord got payments of tens of thousands of dollars for each fake tenant application.

Williams received kickback payments from those who used the scheme for fraud. Williams herself received more than $740,000 in emergency funds by posing as the landlord on at least 21 different applications for rental aid. In fact, neither Williams nor her accomplices owned any rental properties and were not the tenants they impersonated.

In addition to Williams the grand jury indicted:

Rayvon Darnell Peterson, 32, of Seattle, Washington

Tia Janee Robinson, 28, of Fife, Washington

Jahari Asad Cunningham, 45, of Houston, Texas

D’arius Akim Jackson, 37, Bonney Lake, Washington

David Jesus Martinez, 32, Pacific, Washington

The indictment says that, between June 2020 and August 2021, Williams and others submitted at least 35 fraudulent applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) seeking more than $3.7 million from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Two of the loans were funded for a loss of $300,000. Williams assisted her accomplices with forging documents and fake tax statements to defraud the SBA. Williams used multiple common email addresses and a common naming convention for business names as she attempted the fraud.

Williams and others also sought to defraud a different SBA program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In April and May 2021, Williams, Jackson, and others submitted at least 13 fraudulent applications to the SBA PPP program seeking approximately $253,000. Nearly $212,000 was paid out.

According to the indictment the money was used for luxury cars, lavish trips, designer clothes, jewelry, and even plastic surgery.

Wire fraud in connection with a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Money laundering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The case was investigated by the FBI with assistance from SBA-OIG. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Cindy Chang.

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