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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

Totten: Pandemic aid to help small businesses, 'not to buy luxury cars or pay for wedding expenses'

Kurtis James VanderMolen, 50, of Grand Rapids, pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering for his role in a conspiracy to obtain Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans "for a company that did not exist," the DOJ reported Dec. 15. Bank fraud carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison; money laundering has a 10-year maximum sentence, according to the report.

James A. Tarasca, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan, said PPP was a "critical lifeline for Michigan’s small businesses, and the FBI will not tolerate people taking advantage of that program to enrich themselves.

“This kind of fraud may have prevented honest business owners from getting the help they needed to weather the early days of the pandemic," Tarasca said in the report.

VanderMolen applied in July 2020 for a PPP loan and submitted fraudulent bank and payroll records for Breakout Strategies, a fictitious company VanderMolen falsely claimed had 11 employees, the DOJ reports. He collected $100,641, "which he used for personal expenses," the DOJ reports, "including a BMW 650i convertible."

In February 2021, VanderMolen applied for a second PPP loan, again submitting fake documents for the fake Breakout Strategies, and received approximately $69,361 "that he used for personal expenses, including for his wedding aboard a boat in Florida," the report states.

“This was federal aid that was intended to support our country’s critical small businesses, not to buy luxury cars or pay for wedding expenses,” U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said in the report. “My office will continue to aggressively prosecute COVID-19 relief fraud using all available remedies.”

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