Donald Finley, owner of Bayville Adventure Park, leaves federal court...

Donald Finley, owner of Bayville Adventure Park, leaves federal court in Central Islip after his sentencing Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

A federal judge sentenced the owner of Bayville Adventure Park to 2 years in federal prison Tuesday after he admitted receiving more than $3 million in COVID-19 disaster funds by lying on online loan applications.

U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack said Donald Finley, 62, of Locust Valley, lived an “extraordinary and respectable life” but made a “series of very bad mistakes” that warranted punishment.

“A message must be sent to would-be thieves and con artists who contrive frauds to steal from critical relief programs,” said Azrack, who also ordered Finley to pay a $15,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service.

Finley, who also owned the now-defunct Jekyll & Hyde theme restaurant in Manhattan, pleaded guilty in May to relief fraud and wire fraud in Central Islip federal court. He admitted inflating the payroll of his business entities and made other false statements to obtain additional funds while under intense financial pressure brought on by the pandemic.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The owner of Bayville Adventure Park on Long Island was sentenced to 2  years in prison for COVID-19 loan fraud.
  • Donald Finley, 62, of Locust Valley, pleaded guilty in May to stealing $3.2 million in small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.
  • Finley has paid $3.2 million in restitution. He was also ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and complete 500 hours of community service as part of his sentence.

Prosecutors said Finley used the money for personal expenses, including buying a home in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in February 2021. Finley, who was accompanied in court by his wife and four children, apologized for his actions.

“These resources were intended to help this country recover from this catastrophic event and I don’t have an excuse for what I’ve done,” the businessman said.

Finley, who was raised in Freeport, operated several restaurants and theme parks on Long Island and in New York City between March 2020 and March 2021, when the fraud occurred, according to court records. He fraudulently applied for and received 29 loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program worth approximately $3.2 million.

Finley reported just $69,000 in wages for the six employees of his legitimate companies in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, prosecutors said in court filings. While filing for pandemic relief, he reported more than $4.5 million in payroll and presented falsified tax documents to support the fraud, prosecutors said.

Restitution was paid almost immediately after he was caught and pleaded guilty, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Misorek said at sentencing.

"That's somewhat more offensive than having to work very hard and pay it back," Misorek said. "He didn't have to commit this crime."

Prosecutors, who had sought a sentence of 41 to 51 months incarceration, said Finley was living in an 11,000-square-foot mansion on an 8-acre estate worth more than $7 million when he used more than $2 million in COVID relief to purchase the Nantucket property under his mother’s name.

recommendedBayville Adventure Park owner sentenced to 2 years in prison in $3.2M COVID-19 loan fraud

“[He] chose to preserve his lavish lifestyle rather instead of doing what most Americans were forced to do during the pandemic,” Misorek wrote in a presentence memo. “Most people had to tighten their belts, do more with less, downsize and struggle.”

In his own memo to the court, Finley’s attorney, Christopher Ferguson, of Manhattan, said his client was abusing alcohol and “got caught up in the hysteria and uncertainty of the pandemic, [committing] an uncharacteristically terrible lapse in judgment.”

“[Finley] makes no excuses for his conduct,” Ferguson wrote. “He fully recognizes that others who were gravely impacted by the pandemic did not break the law.”

Ferguson declined to comment following the sentencing. Finley, dressed in a dark suit and striped tie, ran across the lawn of the courthouse to avoid speaking with media.

Congress created the PPP and EIDLP as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to companies impacted by the economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

PPP loans are bank loans — used to pay payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities — that were forgiven by the federal government if certain criteria were met.

Finley’s wife, mother and children all wrote letters to the court seeking leniency at sentencing. Azrack said she was moved by their support.

Finley, who remains free on an unsecured $500,000 bond, had faced up to 30 years in prison under the charges he pleaded guilty to. He is due to report to prison June 17.

Finley is one of at least 20 residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties to be charged with bilking the federal government’s business relief programs out of a total of nearly $50 million during the economic shutdown in 2020 and into 2021, a Newsday report found.

Finley had purchased the Bayville Adventure Park property in 2004, demolishing the existing amusement attractions before reopening  two years later, he told Newsday in a 2013 interview. Ferguson said in his memo that Finley, who came from a middle-class upbringing, “embodied the American dream.”

The park, which includes miniature golf, an indoor rock wall, bumper boats, a waterslide and “treetop” walkway, remains open, according to its website.

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.

Latest videos