DOJ: 57 people, including NFL athlete, involved in trying to steal $175 million through COVID-19 program

Dozens of people are accused of attempting to steal millions of dollars from a coronavirus relief effort, the Paycheck Protection Program.


A Justice Department official said tens of millions of dollars meant for businesses and their workers in a coronavirus-relief program were stolen.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt said Thursday that the alleged thefts targeted some $175 million in the Paycheck Protection Program.

Losses have involved over $70 million, but Justice officials have recovered and frozen over $30 million, and that total is expected to rise, Rabbitt said.

The crimes included a $24 million scheme allegedly linked to NFL player Joshua J. Bellamy, 31, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who was released by the New York Jets on Tuesday.

"Bellamy is alleged to have obtained a PPP loan of $1,246,565 for his own company, Drip Entertainment LLC," DOJ officials said. "Bellamy allegedly purchased over $104,000 in luxury goods using proceeds of his PPP loan, including purchases at Dior, Gucci, and jewelers. He is also alleged to have spent approximately $62,774 in PPP loan proceeds at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and to have withdrawn over $302,000. Bellamy also allegedly sought PPP loans on behalf of his family members and close associates."

In an email, Bellamy's attorneys — Jeff and Diego Weiner — said the case is in an early phase.

"Josh Bellamy is a good and decent man, who is presumed innocent by our laws," the attorneys said. "We hope that the public will give him the benefit of the doubt at this time. All too often, professional athletes are taken advantage of by people who are purportedly acting on their behalf as agents or advisors. We will all know more as the case progresses."

"The complaint alleges that the scheme involved the preparation of at least 90 fraudulent applications, most of which were submitted," the Justice Department says. Bellamy and "other conspirators in the scheme are alleged to have applied for PPP loans that are together worth more than $24 million dollars. Many of those loan applications were approved and funded by financial institutions, paying out at least $17.4 million."

Video: Man allegedly spent PPP funds on hotels, jewelry and $318,497 Lamborghini, ticketed in July for mask issue

Bellamy was due to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Tuite of the Middle District of Florida on Thursday.

The alleged crimes of individuals fell into two categories, according to Rabbitt.

The first category involves individuals or small groups who lied about having legitimate businesses, or who claimed they needed PPP money for things like paying their workers, but instead used it to buy splashy luxury items for themselves, according to the Justice Department.

"These defendants used lies to obtain millions of dollars in PPP funds and then spent those funds on things like luxury cars, homes, renovations, jewelry — and even adult entertainment and gambling in Las Vegas," Rabbitt said.

The second category involved "coordinated criminal rings that ... engaged in systematic, organized conduct to loot the PPP," according to Rabbitt.

CNN contributed to this report.