A Massachusetts man who attempted to scam the government out of 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, federal prosecutors said.

David Staveley, 54, of Andover, 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. Soon after receiving the announcement of the program for small-business loans, they submitted requests for funds totaling nearly $543,7778. 

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

Loan fraud has cost billionsA Texas university study found that online financial firms enabled fraud in PPP loan loans.

Staveley and Butziger were the first people in the nation to be charged with trying to defraud the CARES Act SBA Paycheck Protection Program. Authorities claim that no money was ever released to either of the 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. A fugitive investigation was launched by Marshals.

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 investigative:Contractors with Coronavirus double-dip federal funds to receive relief money and contracts

Paycheck Protection Program is designed to help small businesses weather the worst of the pandemic. It offers forgivable loans to be used for job preservation. 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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