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N.J. man sentenced to over 2 years in prison for Covid relief fraud

Bernard Lopez admitted receiving $481,502 in government relief funds designated for businesses affected by the pandemic, according to charging documents.

A New Jersey man who stole hundreds of thousands dollars in Covid relief funds — in part by doctoring a U.S. government check for $1,886.87 to read $211,886.87 — was sentenced this week to over two years in prison and ordered to pay the money back.

Bernard Lopez, a 40-year-old from Middlesex County, pleaded guilty after admitting to bank fraud and theft of government funds in July. Judge Peter Sheridan sentenced Lopez to 30 months in prison on Thursday.

According to the Department of Justice, Lopez obtained a fraudulent Social Security number before the pandemic began and used it to open a fake bank account for a nonexistent business. Lopez then proceeded to deposit government Covid funds into the account, from which he transferred and withdrew the monies for personal use.

Lopez's arrest was first announced in April, when the DOJ said he "falsely represented" having a company with dozens of employees in order to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in Covid-19 emergency funds.

The DOJ explained that loans for the Paycheck Protection Program loan applications went "directly to banks or financial institutions participating in the program; in those applications, applicants make affirmative certifications about their average monthly payroll expenses and number of employees."

"Applicants also certify their intent to spend PPP proceeds on permissible business expenses, such as payroll costs, rent, utilities, and interest on mortgages," DOJ continued.

In his application Lopez asserted his company had 25 employees — it had zero — and payroll amounting to nearly $200,000.

"Based on Lopez’s misrepresentations, the lender approved Lopez’s PPP loan application and provided Lopez’s purported business with $481,502 in federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds meant for distressed small businesses," the DOJ wrote.

In addition to his sentence in prison Lopez was ordered to pay restitution of $137,000 and forfeiture of $481,502.

In a statement, Lopez's attorney, Nicole Westmoreland, said "we appreciate the court in this case."

"Mr. Lopez looks forward to returning home to his family soon."