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Leader of $6.8M pandemic-fund fraud ring in King County sentenced to prison

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(The Center Square) – The leader of a fraud ring that sought to steal more than $6.8 million in federal pandemic relief funds in King County has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Authorities said 29-year-old Paradise Williams personally received more than $2 million in fraudulent proceeds that she spent on luxury cars, lavish trips, jewelry, designer goods and cosmetic surgery.

Williams was “relentless in her efforts to steal pandemic benefits throughout the entire duration of our national emergency, and it is unconscionable that she funded a life of luxury by stealing millions in taxpayer funds that should have prevented King County residents from being evicted in the winter,” said Tessa M. Gorman, U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, in a news release.

During a sentencing hearing Tuesday in Seattle, U.S. District Court Judge John H. Chun said, “These were serious and terrible crimes” that Williams and her co-defendants committed against the community.

According to court documents, Williams personally submitted over 125 fraudulent applications between June 2020 and February 2022 for federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds administered by King County, along with the Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs and Economic Security Act unemployment benefits.

The Attorney General’s Office said it was the largest such theft case in the nation.

Authorities said Williams enlisted over 50 associates – including five co-defendants – to obtain more than $3.3 million by posing as fake tenants, landlords, and small business owners in need of assistance. Williams was accused of creating false bank statements, tenant ledgers, and landlord attestations, then laundering the monies through wire transfers, cash withdrawals, and luxury purchases. She allegedly received over $700,000 directly from administrating agencies and more than $1.2 million in kickback payments from associates for facilitating the bogus submissions.

As part of her plea agreement on the felony charges, Williams will forfeit $2.02 million in proceeds that she personally obtained, plus a Lexus sedan and Range Rover SUV, and will pay restitution of nearly $2.8 million.

Four co-defendants have also pled guilty to various related crimes. Chun previously sentenced D’Arius Jackson to three years in prison and Tia Robinson to 18 months. Two others, Rayvon Peterson and David Martinez, are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

The case was investigated by the FBI with assistance from the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Chang.

The U.S. Department of Justice established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May 2021 in partnership with other government agencies to combat pandemic-related crimes.

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