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In US Court: Ellen Corkrum pleads guilty

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Liberian fugitive Ms. Ellen Corkrum, who escaped justice here following her indictment by the Grand Jury of Montserrado County in 2013 on multiple charges including economic sabotage and criminal facilitation, pleads guilty to bank fraud in America, totaling US$6 million, reports the United States Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, Northern District of Georgia.

A report issued Wednesday, 18 August 2021 by the Northern District of Georgia Attorney’s Office posted on its website says Ms. Corkrum, using multiple names, brazenly defrauded the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by submitting six false and fraudulent PPP loans between April 27, 2020, and June 17, 2020, requesting a total of US$7,943,591.50, of which US$6,017,066.50 was disbursed.

Sentencing for Corkrum, who goes by the name Hunter VanPelt, 49, of Roswell, Georgia, is scheduled for January 4, 2022, at 10:00 a.m., before U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen.

The Paycheck Protection Program”, the district court says, “helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine explains, “When these funds are diverted by fraud, such as in this case, workers and the businesses that employ them unfortunately suffer.”

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. from the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division says Corkrum, going by the name VanPelt, brazenly exploited this devastating national emergency for her personal gain, and is now being held accountable for the fraudulent conduct.

“PPP fund should be reserved for legitimate businesses and their hard-working employees who have suffered economically as a result of the pandemic. The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that anyone who takes advantage of COVID-19 relief programs will be brought to justice”, he is quoted as saying.

Ellen Corkrum is said to have changed her name to Hunter VanPelt in July 2016 and submitted the PPP loan applications under both names.

In each of the applications, she falsely represented the average monthly payroll and the number of employees working for the relevant company. VanPelt also submitted false IRS records, false bank statements and false payroll reports in connection with those applications and Federal agents were able to seize approximately US$2.1 million of the fraudulent proceeds.

To achieve her plans, she owned or controlled six entities thru which she sought the PPP loans namely; Georgia Nephrology Physician Associated, United Healthcare Group & Co., Nephrology Network Group LLC, First Corporate International, Corkrum Consolidated Inc., and Kiwi International Inc., respectively.

According to Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, the Paycheck Protection Program is key to survival for many small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is particularly disturbing that anyone would try to capitalize off a federal program at those businesses’ expense. The FBI will persist in its efforts to stop such fraud”, Chris maintains.

The report says the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, which is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP.  In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.  Additional funding was authorized by Congress in December 2020.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of one percent.  PPP loan proceeds must be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.  The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within eight weeks of receipt and use at least 75 percent of the forgiven amount for payroll.

 “To support small and community banks, the Federal Home Loan banks can accept Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans as collateral when making loans to their members,” says Special Agent in Charge Edwin S. Bonano of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Chris A. Wenger are prosecuting the case.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across the government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. 

Back in 2013, Ellen Corkrum was indicted by the Government of Liberia along with former First International Bank, a commercial bank in a collision in which her fiancé Melvin Johnson was to execute an unauthorized transfer of US$56,750 from the account of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) where she served then as managing director under the administration of ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (no relations) before fleeing Liberia. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/georgia-woman-pleads-guilty-bank-fraud-covid-relief-fraud-scheme Report compiled by Jonathan Browne

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