An Oakland woman was arrested in Austin, Texas Friday morning and charged with bank fraud over an alleged con game in which she created shell companies with non-existent employees and fraudulently applied for Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster loans from the federal government last year.
According to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California, 31-year-old Christina Burden has been charged with one count of bank fraud for applying for and later receiving a $684,375 forgivable loan from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for a shell entity called "Blessing Box Co LLC." In total, she would end up receiving over $1 million in pandemic relief loans for non-existent companies, including another loan from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. And in total, she submitted 10 applications for federal loans totaling $4.5 million.
Instead of paying employees with the money — since she apparently had none — federal investigators say she spent the government loans on lavish travel and entertainment expenses for herself — including $184,000 on airfare, private jet travel, and hotel expenses, and $124,000 on luxury purchases from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Neiman Marcus. She also allegedly wired large sums to family members to purchase luxury vehicles.
She probably should have used some of the money to disappear to Mexico or Belize, but instead she was found in Austin.
"The Paycheck Protection Program provides a financial lifeline to needy businesses and their employees,” says U.S. Attorney Anderson David L. Anderson in a release. “We allege that Christina Burden obtained PPP funds by fraud, submitting false business information, false employee numbers, false bank statements, and false tax returns. She used those funds for a spending spree on entertainment, luxury goods, and high end excursions, including travel by private jet.”
J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, said in a statement, "The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration aggressively pursues those who endeavor to defraud taxpayer-funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act programs, which were established to provide assistance to American business owners during these unprecedented times."
“As we begin a second round of PPP loans for small businesses who are struggling during this pandemic, we will be on alert for fraudsters who seek to take advantage of the program,” said FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. “Those who wish to defraud programs designed to help those in need should know that the FBI and our partners will pursue every investigative tool available to us to ensure the integrity of those programs and that they remain available to our community’s small business owners."
A LinkedIn account for a Christina Burden in Oakland, which may or may not belong to this same Christina Burden, suggests she has an MBA in accounting and for the last decade has owned her own bookkeeping and tax preparation business.
Burden will be arraigned in federal court in Texas on Monday. If convicted, she faces a maximum of 30 years in prison for the bank fraud charge and could be charged a $ 1 million fine.