Phoenix woman who used COVID PPP loans to buy cars gets 5 years for fraud
PHOENIX — A Phoenix woman was recently sentenced to 5 years in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining Paycheck Protection Program loans meant to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said.
Celestine Coletta Strong, 46, was accused of filing false application information and using the loans to buy luxury cars and other items, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona said in a press release Wednesday.
In addition to the prison time, a judge on Oct. 31 ordered Strong to pay $327,448 in restitution and surrender two cars, a 2016 Mercedes-Benz E400 and 2018 Dodge Challenger.
She previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Prosecutors say Strong fraudulently received $400,000 in PPP loans, although she tried getting much more.
She was accused of using falsified employee information and bank statements to apply for 17 loans totaling more than $3.5 million.
Homeland Security Investigations led the investigation. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General were also involved.
The PPP loan program was part of the CARES Act economic relief package signed by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020, when the COVID pandemic was in its early stages.
In May 2021, the Department of Justice established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, a partnership with multiple agencies to combat pandemic-related fraud.