A Massachusetts man who attempted to scam the government out of nearly more than half a million dollars in coronavirus relief funds intended to help small businesses stay afloat, then faked his own suicide, was sentenced to 56 months in prison.

David Staveley, 54, was the first man in the U.S. charged for COVID business loan fraud when he was arrested, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Staveley and his accomplice, David Butziger, 53, of Rhode Island, claimed to have dozens of employees earning wages at four different businesses. But they did not own the businesses and there were no employees working for them, prosecutors said. Shortly after being announced, the pair applied for $5437778 in loans to small businesses. 

“This was a get rich and make an easy buck scheme,” U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy said.

Loan fraud has cost billionsStudy by Texas University shows that fraud was enabled through online financial services.

Staveley and Butziger were the first people in the nation to be charged with trying to defraud the CARES Act SBA Paycheck Protection Program. According to authorities, no money was given to these men.

After being charged with the fraud and released on house arrest in May 2020, Staveley removed his monitoring device, parked his car near the ocean with his wallet inside and left suicide notes for associates and family members, the DOJ said. To travel between states, he used stolen plates and fake identities. After the U.S. took him into custody, he was taken back to Georgia. The U.S. Marshals began a fugitive probe.

Staveley and his mother both pleaded with the judge for leniency, claiming Staveley has developing debilitating PTSD after being assaulted during a previous stint in federal prison. He claimed that he had been living in isolation for 14 months.

He was previously sentenced to two consecutive stints in federal jail for the theft of $284,000 and fraud on New Hampshire mortgages.

Butziger will be sentenced November 1.

USA TODAY Investigation:Two-dip Government funds for Coronavirus Contractors are used to pay relief money, and contract funding.

Paycheck Protection Program was created to assist small business owners in weathering the storms of pandemic. The program offers loans that can be forgiven and could help save job opportunities. A report out of the University of Texas, Austin identified more than 1.8 million loans with indications of potential fraud by borrowers, representing about $76 billion.

One Southern California man was arrested in May of this year after federal authorities said he fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds to buy luxurious cars, take lavish vacations and cover personal expenses. A Florida man was charged with using the millions in fraudulent PPP funds he received to purchase a seven-bedroom mansion.

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