Red Power Ranger Actor Busted in Texas For $3.5 Million PPP Fraud

By - May 26, 2022
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A man from Texas who once played the Red Power Range in the TV show from the 1990s was among 20 people who were arrested last week in a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud case. The case involves stolen funds in excess of $3.5 million.

Jason Geiger, better known as Austin St. John, was one of the people indicted last Thursday on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Federal prosecutors reported that the McKinney, Texas, actor, and others from Texas and Florida engaged in a scam to defraud lenders and the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program out of millions of dollars.

St. John is best known for playing Jason Lee Scott on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. He was on the TV show in 1993 but moved on after the second season.

US Attorney’s Office Says Michael Hill Was Mastermind

US attorneys in charge of the federal case say a man from Mineral Springs, Texas, named Michael Hill was behind the scheme. They allege that Hill recruited at least a dozen people to use current businesses or create new ones on paper to apply for PPP funds. Another conspirator named Andrew Moran helped fill out the paperwork and faked documents.

Federal agents said once they got the illegal funds from the SBA, the defendants didn’t use the money as required, which was to pay employees or pay for overhead costs. Instead, each defendant paid Hill and Moran and transferred cash to their personal accounts. Then, they spent money on personal items.

A former prosecutor said there will be documents revealed that show bank accounts being opened, money going in and coming out.

Next, federal agents said one of the scammers recruited someone else and other helped with making the necessary fake documents.

Geiger has pleaded not guilty to the PPP loan fraud charges, and his lawyer said last week that he will ‘vigorously contest’ the charges.

Federal Prosecutors Fan Out Across Country Chasing PPP Fraudsters

In recent months, federal prosecutors have been aggressively searching for and prosecuting people who allegedly abused the PPP program for their own selfish interests.

For example, last February, the daughter of a former mayor in South Florida who ran for Congress was sent to federal prison for lying to get $300,000 in COVID relief funds.

Damara Holness, 28, is the daughter of former Broward County mayor Dale Holness. She got a 20-month prison sentence for PPP loan fraud. Damara Holness pleaded guilty at the end of 2021, which was a day after the Democratic primary for a US House seat that Dale Holness lost by a handful of votes.

The federal attorney on the case said that Holness says the chance to ‘unjustly enrich herself’ by defrauding the PPP that was intended to help struggling businesses during the pandemic. But her attorney responded that her client took the money more out of desperation than greed.

Holness applied for a PPP loan in 2020 for her company, Holness Consulting. The application said the firm had a monthly payroll of $120,000 for 18 employees. The business got its incorporation papers in November 2018 but was inactive in 2019.

SEE ALSO: Are People Going to Jail for PPP Fraud?

Damara Holness reinstated the company in 2020 to get the PPP loan. But the business had no employees at the time and almost no income.

Prosecutors explained that Holness spent several months creating a long paper trail after she got the cash. Court documents showed that she paid 20 people, including a school bus driver and a bank guard, about $1400 every other week. When they cashed their checks, she said each ‘worker’ would keep $400 and give the rest to her.

When she was in court for her sentencing Damara Holness apologized to the government and her family and friends. She also noted that her acts had negatively affected her father’s career.

More PPP Fraud Arrests And Sentences In The News

In Georgia, a man named Darrell Thomas, 36, was convicted for stealing more than $11 million from the PPP. He received 15 years in federal prison.

He pleaded guilty in 2021 to bank fraud and money laundering. After the guilty plea, he gave up more than $2 million in seized funds and other assets he purchased with the illegal money. Some of the property that was taken by federal agents included a Land Rover, Mercedez-Benz, and an Acura NSX.

As part of the guilty plea, Thomas said that he got fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster loans of $1 million and several million in car loans, in addition to $11 million in PPP founds.

Thomas was the mastermind behind a scam that crossed the whole country and has led to federal charges against 22 others. Thomas is one of 12 people who pleaded guilty and six have been sentenced. The others have federal charges pending.

The fraud case against Thomas involved the time between April and August 2020, according to federal attorneys. Thomas eventually admitted that he set up a fraud scam that got 14 PPP loans for amounts ranging from $700,000 to $850,000.

After the loans were received, about $5 million was transferred to an account Thomas held. The rest of the funds were used by the fake business owners for their personal expenses.

The US Justice Department has seized about $4 of that money from those who participated in the scam.