Man convicted of stealing $1.9 million in COVID-19 relief money gets more than 5 years in prison


BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man was sentenced Monday to more than five years in federal prison for organizing a scheme that stole nearly $2 million in government aid intended to help businesses endure the coronavirus pandemic.

A U.S. District Court judge in Brunswick sentenced 41-year-old Bernard Okojie after a jury in March convicted him of fraud and conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors say Okojie filed dozens of applications for himself and others to receive COVID-19 relief funds in 2020 and 2021, but none of the businesses named in the applications existed.

The government paid Okojie and his accomplices more than $1.9 million, prosecutors said, which they used to buy a home and vehicles in addition to luxury shopping trips and a toy poodle. Authorities said Okojie was carrying nearly $40,000 in cash when they apprehended him trying to leave the U.S.

Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ordered Okojie to repay the $1.9 million in addition to serving 64 months in prison.

“Bernard Okojie devised a complex and far-reaching scheme to steal federal funding intended to provide relief to small businesses struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Jill Steinberg of the Southern District of Georgia said in a news release. “This sentence imposes a strong measure of accountability for these blatant acts of fraud.”

Okojie was far from alone. An Associated Press analysis found thousands of suspected schemes in which fraudsters potentially stole more than $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funding as the U.S. government sought to quickly disperse aid during the pandemic.