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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 28, 2022 4 months ago

Hialeah man's scheme netted $1.9M in PPP funds

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Richard Simpkins, 47, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and money laundering.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Richard Simpkins, aka Rick Royster, of Hialeah, pleaded guilty June 21 to charges related to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and money laundering.

According to the indictment issued by a U.S. Middle District of Florida grand jury, Simpkins, 47, along with co-conspirator and Dade City resident Keith Nicoletta, 48, submitted a false and fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan application in May 2020 that resulted in more than $1.9 million being disbursed from a Utah bank to a Lakeland credit union account controlled by Nicoletta. Nicoletta opened the account in the name of West Coast Cores LLC, a Dade City-based company he created in 2016 that had no employees other than Nicoletta and his wife.

Two other co-conspirators, known only by the initials H.B. and J.F., are mentioned as participating in the scheme in the indictment, but they do not show up in Simpkins’ plea agreement.

Read more: Pinellas man, 22, allegedly laundered PPP funds through fictitious charity

The co-conspirators took numerous steps to make their PPP application appear legitimate, according to court records. They stated the fund would be used for payroll, lease and mortgage interest and utilities. They also inflated WCC’s number of employees (69) and the company’s average monthly payroll ($761,263, or $9,135,156 annually), in addition to creating bogus payroll tax records and submitting false IRS forms as part of their loan application documents.

According to Simpkins’ plea agreement, he personally received some $180,000 in laundered PPP funds, delivered in cash and via wire transfer to an account at a credit union in Vienna, Virginia.

“During the conspiracy,” the plea agreement reads, “Simpkins and Nicoletta exchanged hundreds of encrypted messages. In these messages, Simpkins advised Nicoletta that the conspirators were ‘gathering people for you to put on your payroll,’ even though they were not real WCC employees. Simpkins also directed conspirator Nicoletta to get ‘as many’ names of fake employees as he could.”

Simpkins faces a maximum of 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and 10 years for money laundering charge. His Miami-based attorney, David Weinstein of Jones Walker LLP, declined to discuss the case.

“There’s not much I can comment on beyond what is contained in the pleadings,” he says. “We will at some point be filing a sentencing memorandum, but there’s not much more I can add to what has been filed with the district court.”

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