ROSWELL, Ga. — A Roswell businesswoman will pay $7 million in restitution and serve three years and five months in prison for defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen sentenced Hunter VanPelt who pleaded guilty to the charge last August
The U.S. Attorney’s office announced Jan. 4 VanPelt will have to forfeit an additional $2 million and serve five years of supervised release. The PPP was established to help companies struggling to stay afloat during widespread shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Federal agents said the 49-year-old woman used her current and former name, Ellen Corkrum, to falsely represent the average monthly payroll and number of employees who worked for several companies she either owned or controlled. She changed her name in July 2016.
Using bogus IRS records, bank statements and payroll reports, VanPelt submitted applications between April and June 2020 requesting roughly $7.9 million in PPP loans, of which she was able to secure more than $6 million.
The six companies she used were Georgia Nephrology Physician Associated, United Healthcare Group & Co., Nephrology Network Group LLC, First Corporate International, Corkrum Consolidated Inc. and Kiwi International Inc.
Federal agents then seized $2.1 million of VanPelt’s fraudulent proceeds following an investigation by the FBI and Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.
According to McClatchy News, when investigators began looking into the alleged fraud, the government discovered VanPelt was a former government official in West Africa. In 2013, when she was serving as the managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority, she was indicted on charges she made hundreds of thousands of dollars in unauthorized transfers from the airport’s bank accounts.
VanPelt reportedly fled to the U.S., and the charges were dropped in 2019, but she maintained ties with Liberia. McClatchy News reported $2,497 from VanPelt’s PPP loans was spent at Costco, $4,863 at Sam’s Club and $22,146 at Publix. Many of the transactions involved sending money to individuals in Liberia.
VanPelt also used the money to make a $97,800 payment on an American Express credit card, according to the publication. U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine said he hopes VanPelt’s significant federal sentence will deter others from following the same path.
“The Paycheck Protection Program is meant to help legitimate businesses and their workers through the depths of the pandemic,” Erskine said. “Unfortunately, VanPelt decided to use the program as her personal bank.”
The Justice Department stated it has prosecuted more than 150 defendants so far and seized more than $75 million in cash derived from fraudulent loans through the program, along with properties and luxury items.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Chris A. Wenger prosecuted the VanPelt case.