Florida man charged with COVID relief fraud

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man received more than $7.2 million in coronavirus relief funds after concocting hundreds of nonexistent employees on loan applications, federal prosecutors said.

A federal grand jury in Orlando handed down an indictment last week against Don Cisternino, 45, of Chuluota. The central Florida man is charged with two counts of wire fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft and three counts of illegal monetary transactions. If convicted, he faces more than 70 years in prison.

Last spring, Cisternino falsely claimed on a loan application that his New York business, MagnifiCo, had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million, prosecutors said. The company actually had few, if any, employees other than Cisternino and his girlfriend, and it didn’t report any wages to the IRS in 2019, officials said.

After obtaining the $7.2-million emergency loan, Cisternino purchased a 12,579-square-foot (1,169 square-meter) home in Seminole County, as well as a Lincoln Navigator, a Maserati and a Mercedes-Benz, prosecutors said.

Online court records didn’t list an attorney for Cisternino.

The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law in March.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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