Bernard Okojie, a 41-year-old Georgia man, has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme that defrauded nearly $2 million in government aid intended to assist businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Okojie was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges by a jury in March and was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge in Brunswick.
According to prosecutors, Okojie submitted numerous applications for himself and others to receive COVID-19 relief funds in 2020 and 2021. However, none of the businesses mentioned in the applications actually existed. The government disbursed over $1.9 million to Okojie and his accomplices, who used the funds to purchase a home, vehicles, and indulged in luxury shopping trips, including acquiring a toy poodle.
When authorities apprehended Okojie attempting to leave the United States, he was found in possession of nearly $40,000 in cash. In addition to serving a 64-month prison sentence, Okojie has been ordered by Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to repay the $1.9 million.
U.S. Attorney Jill Steinberg of the Southern District of Georgia stated that Okojie devised an elaborate scheme to steal federal funding intended for struggling small businesses affected by the pandemic. Steinberg emphasized that the sentence holds Okojie accountable for his fraudulent actions.
The case of Bernard Okojie is just one among thousands of suspected schemes identified by an Associated Press analysis, potentially resulting in the theft of over $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funding as the U.S. government aimed to swiftly distribute aid during the pandemic.