The Department of Justice has named 18 people in a federal indictment, charging them with violations of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the Eastern District of Texas, and the group of 18 defendants includes Mighty Morphin Power Rangers star Austin St. John. St. John, whose real name is Jason Lawrence Geiger, is the show’s original Red Ranger, and while we are still waiting for more details on the charges, the release from U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston says that the 18 defendants have either been arrested or summoned for appearance before a federal magistrate judge. If convicted, the 18 charged could be facing up to 20 years in prison.
According to the indictment, Geiger is alleged to have been a part of a scheme to defraud lenders and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Michael Hill is alleged to have recruited others to use an existing business or create a business to submit applications to obtain PPP funding, and on the applications, the defendants are alleged to have misrepresented material information. You can read the excerpt from the official release by the Department of Justice and the list of defendants below.
Michael Lewayne Hill, a/k/a Tank, 47, of Mineral Wells;
Andrew Charles Moran, 43, of Lewisville;
Peter Keovongphet, a/k/a Lil’ Pete, 34, of Ft. Lauderdale, FL;
Ty Alan Burkhart, 34, of Frisco;
Jason Lawrence Geiger, a/k/a Austin St. John a/k/a the Red Power Ranger, 47, of McKinney;
Eric Reed Marascio, a/k/a Phoenix Marcon, 50, of Allen;
Christopher Lee McElfresh, 43, of Frisco;
Cord Dean Newman, 44, of Homosassa, FL;
Elmer Omar Ayala, 45, of Midlothian;
Gregory Fitzgerald Hatley, Jr., 38, of Allen;
Alexander Eric Cortesano, 52, of Dallas;
Arthur Atik Pongtaratik, 33, of Carrollton;
Miles Justin Urias, 34, of Richardson;
Fabian C. Hernandez, 44, of Lake Alfred, FL;
Daniel Lee Warren, 33, address unknown;
Rajaa Bensellam, 49, of Allen;
Hadi Mohammed Taffal, 50, of Allen; and
Jonathon James Spencer, a/k/a Spence, 33, of Rowlett.
The release from the Department of Justice reads “According to the indictment, the defendants, led by Michael Hill and Andrew Moran, are alleged to have executed a scheme to defraud lenders and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Hill is alleged to have recruited co-conspirators to use an existing business or create a business to submit applications to obtain PPP funding. Once enlisted, Moran is alleged to have assisted his co-conspirators with the application paperwork, including fabricating supporting documentation and submitting the application through the online portals. On the applications, the defendants are alleged to have misrepresented material information such as the true nature of their business, the number of employees, and the amount of payroll.
Based on these material misrepresentations, the SBA and other financial institutions approved and issued loans to the defendants. Once in receipt of the fraudulently obtained funds, the defendants did not use the money as intended, such as to pay employee salaries, cover fixed debt or utility payments, or continue health care benefits for employees. Instead, the defendants typically paid Hill and Moran, transferred money to their personal accounts, and spent the funds on various personal purchases. In other instances, the defendants sent the fraudulently obtained funds to Jonathon Spencer for purported investment in foreign exchange markets. In total, the defendants are alleged to have fraudulently obtained at least 16 loans and at least $3.5 million.
If convicted, the defendants each face up to 20 years in federal prison.”