Ronald Smith of Virginia Beach has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and fraudulently collecting federal unemployment benefits. The wire fraud charge is in response to his involvement in an internet scam that stole $1,287,000 from 1,700 victims. (Smith was convicted for a similar scam in 2006 and received a seven-year sentence. You’d think he would’ve learned his lesson.)
Together Smith, his wife, and co-defendant, Terri Miller, owned and operated “Business Development Group.” The company offered to assist individuals in preparing loan applications for loans guaranteed through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The services would supposedly be provided through the internet in exchange for a set fee. (Sounds risky to me.)
Business Development Group’s website claimed that the company was headquartered at the Trump Building in New York City and had additional offices in Las Vegas. It also falsely claimed that the purported nationally known organization was affiliated with the SBA. (If only there were a way to verify that. Perhaps, just maybe, by using the internet to research the SBA website or a phone call to the agency to confirm?)
Their website also stated that they offered a money-back guarantee, when in reality, no refunds would be granted. Smith and Miller enticed 1,700 customers to apply for their services, racking up $1,287,000 in advance fees. The organization did not help their customers obtain SBA loans as promised, with the vast majority of the customers being denied for loans. (Oh well, there goes their Yelp review.)
When contacted by angry customers seeking refunds, Miller and Smith simply ignored them for months at a time. (I wish I could use this method with my responsibilities as well.) They also threatened the customers who complained with legal action. (Shouldn’t this be the other way around?) Many of the customers who contacted the company were deterred until they finally gave up.
Smith also pleaded guilty for applying for unemployment benefits through the Virginia Employment Commission. He applied for regular benefits as well as an additional $600 per week in unemployment compensation that was intended for those who had lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. (As if he hadn’t already done enough damage.) Smith was able to fraudulently obtain $9,600 in federal pandemic unemployment compensation.
When Smith is sentenced in April 2021, he faces a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison for the charges of wire fraud, engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property, and fraud in connection with emergency benefits. Smith will most likely be required to pay restitution to the Virginia Employment Commission as well as to the victims of his internet scheme.
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “Virginia Beach man pleads guilty to $1.2 million loan scam, receiving $9,600 in unemployment benefits,” published by WTKR on October 2, 2020.
NORFOLK, Va. – A Virginia Beach man pleaded guilty today to wire fraud and fraudulently collecting federal unemployment benefits.
Officials say 59-year-old Ronald A. Smith pleaded guilty to an internet-based scam that cheated approximately 1,700 victims out of $1,287,000. He also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of fraudulently collecting unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.