Greshman Man Sentenced To Prison For Stealing COVID Money

Portland, Ore. — A man from Gresham, Oregon has been sentenced to federal prison for stealing over $77,000 in funds intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Justin Allen Cunningham, 41, was sentenced to 10 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $81,207 in restitution.

According to court documents, Cunningham learned of an opportunity in 2021 to procure Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) by submitting fraudulent loan applications on behalf of fake business entities. The PPP program, initially authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March 2020, provided emergency financial assistance to American employers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

To carry out his scheme, Cunningham paid friends to help secure him a loan on behalf of a sole proprietorship he ran as a hobby: an online sneaker retailer called “JC shoe juice.” Cunningham obtained an employer identification number from the IRS and opened an online business bank account. He provided this information to a friend who created fake tax returns for Cunningham’s company and submitted a PPP loan application on his behalf. The loan application falsely claimed that JC shoe juice had been in operation since 2015, had six employees, and generated over $460,000 in gross income in 2019. Cunningham was then issued a loan worth more than $77,000.

On January 21, 2022, a federal grand jury in Portland indicted Cunningham with one count of wire fraud. On October 14, 2022, he pleaded guilty to the single charge.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the SBA Office of Inspector General, and the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan W. Bounds and Meredith D.M. Bateman prosecuted the case.

Individuals with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.