Leader of near-$7M pandemic fraud scheme sentenced to five years

Mar 6, 2024, 8:17 AM

pandemic fraud...

(Getty file graphic)

(Getty file graphic)

The leader of a fraud ring that sought to steal more than $6.8 million in pandemic benefits from nearly every major pandemic assistance program was sentenced to five years in prison by the U.S. District Court in Seattle Monday.

The woman behind the scheme, Paradise Williams, 29, pled guilty to charges of wire fraud and money laundering last December.

“These were serious and terrible crimes,” U.S. District Judge John H. Chun said at the sentencing. “(Williams and her co-defendants) stole from programs designed to help members of their community during the pandemic.”

More fraud scheme sentencings: Ringleader pleads guilty in major King County rental assistance fraud case

Through the scheme, Williams personally received more than $2 million in fraudulent proceeds and spent the money on extravagant expenses such as luxury cars, lavish trips, cosmetic surgery, jewelry and designer goods, according to the Department of Justice.

“Paradise Williams was relentless in her efforts to steal pandemic benefits throughout the entire duration of our national emergency,” U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman stated. “It is unconscionable that she funded a life of luxury by stealing millions in taxpayer funds that should have prevented King County residents from being evicted in the winter.

“Combatting pandemic fraud is a priority for our district, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold individuals accountable for exploiting a national crisis,” Gorman added.

From June 2020 to February 2022, Williams personally submitted over 125 fraudulent applications — posing as a fake tenant, landlord and a small business owner — for the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, according to records in the case. She received funds from a myriad of pandemic assistance programs, including money administered by King County and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

In the scheme, Williams had more than 50 associates falsifying documents alongside her.

More fraudulent COVID-19 schemes: Tacoma Baking Co. owner found guilty of $350K COVID-19 loan fraud

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Williams will pay restitution in the amounts of $2,791,241 to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and $512,730 to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The defendant will forfeit $2,023,104, the proceeds Williams personally obtained through the scheme.

Additionally, Williams will forfeit a Lexus sedan and a Range Rover SUV that she purchased with the fraudulent gains.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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