From Lovebirds to Jailbirds

Male hands counting dollars, black salary, money laundering, illegal business, stock footage

An Arkansas couple has pleaded guilty to attempting to fraudulently secure COVID-19 relief funds. James Read, 44, and his wife, Crystal Payne, 42, both of Mountain Home, Ark., admitted in federal court to attempting to secure Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans they did not deserve.

Read applied for forgivable PPP loans for his business SnowbirdBob LLC. PPP loans are earmarked for small businesses who are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. While Read is a small business owner, he provided falsified information on his loan application instead of an accurate representation of his business’ finances.

In his application, Read provided inflated wage and employee data about SnowbirdBob in an attempt to make his payroll expenses look higher than they were. Read also created falsified tax documents to support these claims. (Because fudging government documents always works out in the end.)  

Payne pleaded guilty to a single count for false statements made in her own PPP loan application. After obtaining PPP loans, the couple laundered the funds and used the money to purchase a new vehicle. (Looks like their getaway car couldn’t outrun the U.S. Government.)  

In addition to the COVID related charges, Read also pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for attempting to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits for himself and others in Louisiana. (Being a ‘jack of all trades’ is normally a good thing, but not when you’re dabbling in various kinds of frauds.) Read falsely claimed that he lived and worked in Louisiana so that he could receive benefits.

Both Read and Payne have been released on their own recognizance as they await sentencing. Read faces imprisonment for up to 30 years and a fine of up to $1,000,000. (Read should rebrand his business from SnowbirdBob to Jailbird Bob.)  Payne faces up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Mountain Home Couple Plead Guilty To Charges In Connection With Obtaining Covid-19 Relief Funds,” dated March 17, 2021.

Fort Smith, Arkansas – David Clay Fowlkes, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced that James Read, age 44, and his wife, Crystal Payne, age 42, both of Mountain Home, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from their attempts to obtaining pandemic relief funds unlawfully.  The Honorable Judge P. K. Holmes III accepted the pleas in the U.S. District Court in Fort Smith.

According to the plea agreement in his case, Read applied to the Small Business Administration for Payment Protection Program (PPP) funds, which, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, are forgivable loans intended for businesses struggling with essential expenses, such as payroll, during the pandemic. In that application, Read provided inflated wage and employee data about his business, SnowbirdBob LLC, and provided falsified tax documents. He further admitted to laundering the PPP loan proceeds by purchasing a new vehicle.


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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.