A US Army soldier has admitted leading a ‘prolific’ plot in which more than $4.5 million in COVID-19 relief and student loans were stolen while stationed at a base in Georgia, federal prosecutors said.
As part of his fraudulent scheme, the soldier and his co-conspirators claimed to be permanently disabled veterans on more than a dozen bogus disability applications sent to the US Department of Education – allowing them to fly more $1 million in federal student loans, according to the court. documents.
The soldier stationed at Fort Stewart, Dara Buck, 39, pleaded guilty to an information charging her with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia said in a news release dated 15 July. She’s from Ladson, South Carolina.
Buck also admitted to submitting more than 150 bogus Paycheck Protection Program applications under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, “resulting in more than $3.5 million in fraudulent payments,” prosecutors said.
McClatchy News contacted Buck’s attorneys for comment on July 18 and was awaiting a response.
Buck, who is Chief Warrant Officer 2 with the Army, is still an active military member, a Fort Stewart spokesperson told McClatchy News. He declined to comment on the case amid the Justice Department investigation.
Its army status is a mid-level rank appointed by the Secretary of the Army.
“CW2 Buck has chosen to dishonor the United States military and defraud the American people whom it is sworn to protect and defend,” Special Agent in Charge Cynthia A. Bruce of the Southeast Field Office said in a statement. of the Defense Criminal Investigation Service.
Buck faces up to five years in federal prison following his guilty plea, the statement said.
The “prolific fraud system”
Between August 2017 and May 2021, Buck is accused of leading anonymous co-conspirators “to engage in multiple schemes to defraud” the US government, according to court documents.
After the CARES Act was enacted in 2020, more than $600 billion in loans were authorized to help eligible small businesses apply for support through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), prosecutors said.
Buck is accused of directly receiving PPP funds after submitting more than 100 bogus claims to the Small Business Administration, according to the news release. Additionally, prosecutors said she would be paid by co-conspirators for submitting false claims on their behalf.
These loans were submitted for “businesses she was supposed to own” and she got about $20,833 for each after lying about their gross income and monthly payroll, according to court documents.
The co-conspirators would pay Buck $500 to $1,000 in cash or via CashApp or Zelle for each bogus PPP loan application she submitted to them, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, the federal student loan forgiveness was also targeted in Buck’s alleged fraud scheme, according to the news release.
Buck is accused of writing a number of forged letters from the US Department of Veterans Affairs to defraud more than $1 million in student loans, according to court documents.
The forged letters from the VA were “used to fraudulently pay off federal loans at taxpayer expense for someone who wasn’t even a veteran,” Special Agent in Charge David Spilker said in a statement.
Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 allows “student borrowers who are totally and permanently disabled” to obtain discharge from certain loans, prosecutors noted.
Buck’s fake letters allegedly falsely claim an applicant was a 100% disabled veteran to accompany bogus TPD loan applications submitted to the Department of Education, according to court documents.
She is accused of charging $350 to $500 for each TPD loan submitted to others, prosecutors said.
Buck’s sentencing will take place after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the US Probation Office, the statement said.
In terms of COVID-19 relief fraud, the US Secret Service estimated in late December that nearly $100 billion in COVID-19 relief funds had been stolen across the country, according to a press release.
Fort Stewart is about 240 miles southeast of Atlanta.