Bank Manager Admits to Organizing a Multistate PPP Fraud Scheme – Fraud Friday

May 31, 2024

Delaney Sexton
Contributing Editor

Bank Manager Admits to Organizing a Multistate PPP Fraud Scheme + Schemes from His Fellow Fraudsters – Fraud Friday

In 2020 and 2021, Tommy Hawkins worked as the branch manager of a national bank that accepted PPP applications. According to LinkedIn, Tommy Hawkins was a branch manager at Citizens Bank. Hawkins and others recruited individuals who owned companies with little to no operations to open accounts at the bank in order to apply for PPP loans. Once he recruited them, he assisted with submitting PPP applications which contained false representations about the number of employees at the company and payroll expenses. In support, the applications included false documentation such as fraudulent tax forms.

Based on these applications, the bank approved at least 38 PPP loans. This amounted to approximately $5 million in disbursements. Hawkins’ motivation for the fraud was the incentive compensation he received through the bank for opening business bank accounts that received fraudulent PPP loans. Additionally, he had an agreement that also awarded him money. Two other individuals worked with Hawkins: Eric Rivera and Lisa Smith. For every loan that Hawkins helped successfully obtain, Rivera and Smith had to pay him $5,000 from the loan proceeds.

A business owner was also listed in this press release. Sieff Robert Sargeant received a fraudulent PPP loan through Hawkins’ branch of the bank. Sargeant paid James Wessels, who is currently being indicted for his role in the fraud, to make fake payroll checks. To conceal the fraud, Sargeant had a friend cash the checks and return the cash to him.

Over a month ago, three individuals were indicted for their role in a multistate fraud scheme, and there were two familiar names: Eric Rivera and James Wessels. The duo is being accused of defrauding a participating lender in the PPP program, which can be assumed to be the bank that Hawkins worked at.

Rivera submitted fraudulent PPP applications for two companies he controlled. The applications contained fake bank statements and IRS tax forms. He was approved for $285,000. Rivera continued recruiting more individuals to the fraud scheme, and each time one of them was approved for a fraudulent PPP loan, he received 15% to 50% of the loan proceeds.

Wessels helped create fraudulent documentation that supported the PPP applications and concealed how the loan proceeds were actually used. During the application process, he provided fraudulent IRS tax forms. He was paid a fee for every fraudulent tax form he created. Further, he helped two individuals, one of whom was Sargeant, by making it appear like the loans were used correctly. Wessels created fake payroll checks. The checks were distributed to friends and family members to cash and return the funds to the loan recipient. Later, the lender forgave these PPP loans based on forgiveness applications that stated the loan proceeds were spent on payroll expenses.

Hawkins/Sargeant Press Release
Rivera/Wessels Press Release