Three JetBlue Airways employees were among five people charged on Thursday with allegedly stealing more than $1 million in COVID-19 relief funds that were intended to help small businesses, prosecutors said.
Orlando Sanay, twins Keimi and Keily Nunez, Michael Pimentel Veloz and Fanny Plasencia were each charged with wire fraud based on false statements that they allegedly made in applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or EIDL, according to a 48-page complaint unsealed on Thursday.
"The defendants brazenly lied and stole more than $1 million in taxpayer funds from a program designed to help small businesses and their employees who were struggling to stay afloat and make ends meet during the pandemic," said Mark Lesko, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, which includes Long Island.
Sanay, 39, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Keimi and Keily Nunez, both 41, of Queens, were employed by JetBlue during April-November 2020 when they and the other defendants allegedly sought EIDL loans for eight businesses, the complaint states.
Keily Nunez no longer works for the Queens-based airline, prosecutors said Thursday.
JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski declined to discuss the roles played by Sanay and the Nunez brothers at the airline or their employment status. "JetBlue is cooperating fully with law enforcement in this matter," Dombrowski said.
In one instance, Sanay applied for an EIDL loan using a JetBlue computer in July, according to the complaint. The loan application was for Sanay Venture Capital LLC, which he said employed 26 people and had revenue of $839,000 in 2019. But government records show the business, which Sanay said he owned, has no employees and never filed a tax return, the complaint states.
Sanay Venture received $139,400 on Aug. 4 from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which oversees EIDL, according to the complaint.
Separately, Keimi Nunez successfully applied for an $80,500 EIDL for East Coast LLC from a JetBlue computer, also in July, the complaint says. The company has no employees and has never filed a tax return, the complaint states.
Angel Martinez, a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, wrote in the complaint that the EIDL funds received by the five defendants were used for personal expenses unrelated to the businesses. Sanay made a car payment to BMW Financial Services in September using some of the Sanay Venture loan, Martinez wrote.
The defendants and their attorneys couldn't be reached to comment. No pleas were entered in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday.
More than $225 billion in EIDL loans and EIDL Advance grants have been awarded since April 2020, SBA records show. Applications are still being accepted for EIDL loans.
The case involving the JetBlue workers is the biggest so far in the Eastern District in terms of EIDL fraud.
Lesko said, "Our office will continue to ensure that criminals who divert pandemic-related relief to line their own pockets are held accountable for their greed."