Florida couple charged with $ 5.8 million COVID relief fraud

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A Polk County couple are accused of fraudulently collecting $ 5.8 million in COVID-19 relief money and using it to buy a luxury car, Louis Vuitton merchandise, etc., and then post it on Facebook.

Prosecutors say Julio Lugo and Rosenide Venant, both of Davenport, have submitted at least 70 bogus and fraudulent loan applications from last spring to the Small Business Administration, including for shell companies set up by Lugo, Venant and their relatives.

They also secured coronavirus relief funds for a former tax preparation company that Lugo previously used for a fraud scheme in 2015, officials said.

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After the emergency loans were secured, Lugo and Venant paid off a luxury vehicle and spent more than $ 62,000 in casinos, investigators said. They also reportedly withdrew at least $ 320,000 in cash.

Lugo then posted a video on Facebook showing a hotel room littered with $ 100 bills and at least $ 5,000 in Louis Vuitton merchandise, authorities said.

Billing documents included these stills from a Facebook video, showing money deposited in a hotel room.

Lugo, 44, and Venant, 37, were arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy and making false statements to a financial institution, court documents show. Lugo was also charged with an illegal money transaction.

If convicted, Lugo faces up to 45 years in federal prison and Venant faces up to 35 years. The case is pending in Federal Court in Tampa.

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Online court records also do not list lawyers.

The Paycheque Protection Program represents billions of dollars in repayable small business loans for Americans struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief program that became federal law last March.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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