Arthur Cornwall, right, of West Babylon, and Sean Williams, of Valley...

Arthur Cornwall, right, of West Babylon, and Sean Williams, of Valley Stream, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud in receiving more than $770,000 in six PPP and EIDL loans. Credit: John Roca

Two former government employees from the South Shore were each sentenced to 1½ years in prison on Wednesday for defrauding federal pandemic business-relief programs of $770,000.

Arthur Cornwall, 43, of West Babylon, and Sean Williams, 42, of Valley Stream, were also ordered to pay back the stolen grant and loan funds during the sentencing at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.

The pair pleaded guilty in June. As a result, Cornwall lost his job as a signal maintainer for the New York City Transit Authority and Williams forfeited his job as a state court officer.

The men are among 22 Long Islanders who have been accused of stealing nearly $50 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans and COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster loans and grants. The aid was meant to help businesses and nonprofits survive the economic shutdowns instituted by governments in 2020-21 to slow the coronavirus’ spread.

“You weren't in desperate straits,” U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack said in sentencing Cornwall, referring to his good-paying job, health insurance and pension from the transit authority. “This crime wasn't born out of financial distress or personal crisis … it was blatant theft and needs to be punished.” 

Besides their government jobs, Cornwall and Williams, who grew up together in Queens, were partners in several companies that purchased, renovated and then sold homes, according to court records.

It was for these companies that the pair submitted false PPP and COVID EIDL applications in 2020 and received at least six loans, totaling $770,000. On the applications, Cornwall and Williams falsely claimed that the companies had employees and profits, said prosecutor Bradley T. King.

Williams, in a text message to an unnamed co-conspirator, stated that he wanted $500,000 in pandemic loans, instead of a suggested $250,000, because the money “would allow me to buy up a whole neighborhood in Pittsburgh and renovate it,” the records show.

Instead, the prosecutor said Williams used the PPP and EIDL money to pay off more than $110,000 in real-estate purchase costs, to buy more than $33,000 in cryptocurrency and to pay off more than $20,000 in personal credit-card debt.

Cornwall used PPP and EIDL funds to pay off more than $31,000 in personal credit-card debt.

Together, the men also paid at least $147,000 in kickbacks to unidentified co-conspirators, according to the prosecutor.

After the sentencing, Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, said, “Abuse of public benefits programs, particularly shameful when those defrauding the government are public servants, will not be tolerated and not forgotten with the passage of time from the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Both Cornwall and Williams expressed regret for their criminal conduct, asking the judge to sentence them to home confinement instead of incarceration so they could care for family.

“I am with them every day,” Cornwall told the judge, crying as he referred to his three young girls. “It will be hard on them [with him in prison].”

Williams said before his sentencing, “I wasn't entitled to that money. It was a bad decision that I shouldn't have made in the first place.”

Later, outside the courthouse, the men's attorney, Karen H. Charrington, said neither had previously broken the law. “These are upstanding guys who got involved in a situation,” she told Newsday.

Still, the judge and others said Cornwall and Williams haven't returned the stolen funds, though Williams alleges that he cancelled his nine cryptocurrency purchases.

Daniel Brubaker, inspector-in-charge in the local office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said, “What makes this case even more egregious is that the defendants were employed in positions of public trust when they stole money specifically intended for those struggling to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.”

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