By Kevin Deutsch
Federal prosecutors this week charged the daughter of a Broward County commissioner and Congressional candidate with conspiring to commit wire fraud, authorities said.
Damara Holness, 28, a former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus, allegedly lied on a coronavirus relief loan application, fraudulently obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help small businesses survive the Covid-19 pandemic, according to federal prosecutors.
The Fort Lauderdale-based political consultant is the daughter of Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who represents the eastern portion of Tamarac, and is running to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.
Damara Holness applied for a $300,000 forgivable, federally-guaranteed Paycheck Protection Program loan in June 2020 on behalf of Holness Consulting, Inc., a Florida company she owned, according to charging documents filed Tuesday in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale.
To justify the requested loan amount, Holness allegedly claimed her company employed 18 people and spent an average of $120,000 a month on payroll, lying in both the online loan application and through supporting fraudulent payroll tax forms, according to federal prosecutors.
“In fact, Holness Consulting had zero employees and no payroll expenses,” prosecutors wrote. “A bank in Georgia approved Holness Consulting’s PPP loan application based on the lies and wired $300,000 to the company’s bank account in Florida…Once the money hit the bank account in July 2020, Holness spent the next few months creating a paper trail to make it appear as if Holness Consulting had employees and was spending the PPP money on legitimate, approved expenses.”
According to the charging documents, Holness issued checks from her company bank account made out to others who agreed, for a fee, to help with the fraud. At Holness’ direction, the people receiving the checks would endorse and return them to her, prosecutors said.
Then, Holness would 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 – about $1,000 per check, according to court papers.
Holness allegedly targeted aid provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a federal law designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who suffered financially from the COVID-19 pandemic.
One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the Paycheck Protection Program.
At her initial court appearance Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt released Holness from custody on a $100,000 personal surety bond.
If convicted, Holness faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.