Jacksonville, Florida – U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has sentenced a Jacksonville business owner, Kenneth Steven Landers, aged 57, to federal prison. The sentence follows Landers’ guilty plea to charges of wire fraud and engaging in illegal monetary transactions related to COVID relief payment fraud.
Kenneth Landers’ fraudulent activities came to light during 2020 and 2021. According to court documents, Landers deceitfully applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, a part of the CARES Act relief program, ten times. These applications, requesting a total of $1.41 million, were made on behalf of four corporate entities under his control: the American Fallen Veterans Service Project Inc., Tire Empire LLC, Maypops LLC, and Florida United Inc. Landers supported each application with falsified or altered Internal Revenue Service tax forms.
Despite the fraudulent nature of these applications, seven out of the ten were approved, netting Landers a total of $910,000. This amount, which was meant to aid businesses in distress, was diverted for Landers’ personal use. The funds, intended for employee payrolls and other permissible expenses, were instead used to clear mortgages on his properties, purchase luxury items like an 18kt gold Rolex watch and a vintage Jaguar XKE Roadster, and for various other personal expenditures including large cash withdrawals.
Landers’ illegal activities did not go unnoticed. On February 14, 2023, he pleaded guilty, and the court subsequently ordered a forfeiture of $910,000 — the total proceeds from his wire fraud scheme. Additionally, he was mandated to make full restitution to the victims of his fraud.
IRS-CI Acting Special Agent In Charge Tara K. Reed expressed her perspective on the case, noting the ongoing impact of the COVID pandemic and condemning Landers’ exploitation of the crisis for personal gain. Reed reaffirmed the commitment of the IRS-CI to pursue and prosecute those who manipulate the system.
This case was a concerted effort by various arms of the legal system. The Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation took the lead in investigating the matter. The prosecution was carried out by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Coolican, with the asset forfeiture process managed by Assistant United States Attorneys Mai Tran, Julie A. Simonsen, and Jennifer Harrington.
Landers’ case is part of a broader initiative by the Department of Justice to clamp down on fraud schemes exploiting the CARES Act relief programs. The CARES Act, established in March 2020, is a federal law aimed at providing emergency financial assistance to Americans impacted by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the key components of the CARES Act is the PPP, which offers loans to businesses for covering payroll costs and other essential expenses.