Daughter of US House hopeful pleads guilty to COVID-19 fraud

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The daughter of a South Florida county commissioner who is running for Congress pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing $300,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.

Damara Holness, 28, pleaded guilty in Fort Lauderdale federal court to conspiring to commit wire fraud, according to court records. She faces up to 20 years in prison at sentencing scheduled for Jan. 20.

Holness served as president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus last year around the time of the fraud. She is the daughter of Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who had a 12-vote lead following Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a South Florida seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A recount will determine the winner. Dale Holness was not charged in his daughter’s fraud case.

As part of her guilty plea, Damara Holness acknowledged that in June 2020, she applied for a $300,000 forgivable, federally-guaranteed Paycheck Protection Program loan on behalf of Holness Consulting Inc. She claimed that her company employed 18 people and spent an average of $120,000 each month on payroll. The company actually had zero employees and no payroll expenses, according to court documents.

After receiving the money from a bank endorsed by the Small Business Administration to fund PPP loans, Holness issued checks from the company bank account made out to others who agreed, for a fee, to help with the fraud, the court documents show.

The people receiving the checks would endorse and return them to Holness, who would then cash the checks at the company’s bank, give a few hundred dollars to the check endorsers and keep the rest of the cash for herself, according to the records.

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