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Hilo man pleads guilty to COVID-19 relief fraud

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A Hilo man pleaded guilty to wire fraud today after he submitted fake payroll documents and tax forms to qualify for $937,575 in COVID-19 relief funds.

Carey Mills, 43, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson to a single-count information, charging him with wire fraud, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice. Mills will be sentenced Oct. 4 and faces a up to 30 years in prison and up to a $1,000,000 fine.

The Paycheck Protection Program is a federal loan program that helped small businesses to cover certain payroll costs, including benefits, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities, when businesses slowed and some shuttered during the peak of the pandemic. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides low-interest loans and grants to small businesses financially crippled by federally-declared disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mills submitted multiple applications for PPP and EIDL funds on behalf of his three businesses — Kanaka Maoli Hookupu Center, New Way Horizon Travel, and Uilani Kawailehua Foundation — each time utilizing interstate wires to submit the fake applications, according to evidence submitted in court by federal prosecutors.

“These businesses included ownership information associated with Mill’s family and friends, whose information was part of the false loan applications — at times without their knowledge or authorization,” according to federal court documents.

Mills faked information on payroll documents and IRS forms, which included false employee and wage payment records to increase the amount of money he would qualify for. As a result of the false and fraudulent applications, Mills received $937,575 in the form of two forgivable PPP loans, one EIDL loan, and one EIDL grant.

Most of the loan proceeds were spent in “rapid succession” on Mills and his family, including personal expenditures like rent. Mills and an unidentified person bought two vacant lots located in Keaau, according to the felony information. The justice department is also pursuing the forfeiture of $69,791.77 seized from Title Guaranty Escrow Services Inc. on Jan., for proceeds of a sale of real property located at 15-1544 15th Avenue, Lot 845, Keaau.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.

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