Kennewick Man Guilty of Misusing COVID Relief Funds
Benjamin D. Castilla, the owner of Columbia Basin Netwerks, a Kennewick-based IT services business, admitted that he received PPP and EIDL funding for his business.
Back on March 27, 2020, President Biden signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided a number of programs through which eligible small businesses could request and obtain relief funding intended to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic for small and local businesses.
One of those program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided forgivable loans to eligible small businesses to retain jobs and maintain payroll during the pandemic. Yet another program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, provided low-interest bridge funding to support businesses endangered by the pandemic.
Castilla admitted that while he used some of the funding he received for legitimate business purposes, he also used $107,534 to purchase a recreational vehicle for his personal use. In addition to paying $107,534, Castilla agreed through the settlement to repay all of the CARES Act loan funding that he received. This civil settlement is the most recent result announced by the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office last year.
Since being launched in March 2022, the Eastern Washington COVID Strike Force has charged approximately 20 individuals, obtained ten criminal felony fraud convictions, and recovered millions of dollars in misspent funds, fines, and penalties.
In the press release, Vanessa R. Waldref, Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, stated, “COVID-19 relief programs quickly ran out of money due to the number of businesses that requested funding, meaning that struggling, deserving small businesses were not able to obtain critically needed funding to keep their businesses afloat during the shutdowns and disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic. We created the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force because it is critical to the strength and safety of our communities that we all work together to combat pandemic-related fraud and bring much-needed accountability to these programs.”
The cases were investigated by the Eastern Washington COVID Fraud Strike Force, and in particular by the Small Business Administration OIG, Western Region.
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