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Arkansas man gets 2 years in prison for virus relief fraud

December 8, 2020 GMT

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A former Walmart manager has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for fraudulently seeking more than $8 million in small business loans intended for coronavirus relief in Oklahoma.

Tulsa authorities said Benjamin Hayford, 32, sought forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Hayford, of Centerton, Arkansas, was a senior manager, global technology operations and portfolio at Walmart. He went to numerous banks, providing lenders with fake documents so they would cover payroll expenses that didn’t exist, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Under the CARES Act, small businesses struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic were given forgivable loans for job retention and other expenses through the Paycheck Protection Program. The program allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%.

Hayward told one financial institution that he had established the limited liability partnership for which he needed relief in January and that it had been operating since February. But an investigation of his emails showed he didn’t create the partnership until April, a few days before he began applying for the loans.

Hayford pleaded guilty in August to one count of bank fraud and four counts of false statements to a financial institution. He admitted that he claimed false payroll expenses by providing fraudulent payroll documentation to multiple banks, including one in Tulsa.

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores decried Hayward’s actions.

“Benjamin Hayford, and those like him, seek to enrich themselves at the expense of others in need during these uncertain times,” Shores said in a news release. “Across the United States, these fraudsters are being brought to justice.”

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Arkansas assisted Oklahoma authorities in the case.

Hayford’s two-year prison sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release, according to the Justice Department.