Bronx banker convicted of stealing COVID relief funds: Feds

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A 52-year-old Bronx banker was convicted by a federal jury of fraud and money laundering on June 18 related to COVID-19 pandemic federal aid, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Anuli Okeke — the former vice president and manager of the 125th Street New York branch of Popular Bank — was booked for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering conspiracy by a federal jury in Brooklyn on June 18. The DOJ said the charges arose out of the Bronx woman’s scheme to fraudulently obtain approximately $3.4 million of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program dollars during the “height” of the pandemic.

In the statement about Okeke’s conviction, Breon Peace — the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York — said the verdict “reaffirms” the agency’s commitment to crack down on people “who took advantage of a global crisis to commit crimes.” 

“While the global pandemic caused widespread economic and personal harm for so many, the defendant abused her trusted position at a bank to steal millions of dollars from programs designed to keep small businesses afloat and workers on payroll,” Peace said. 

According to the DOJ, the investigation into Okeke’s wrongdoing revealed that she and seven co-conspirators from both within and outside the bank fabricated loan and tax documents to help them steal PPP and EIDL funds. The DOJ said they did this by knowingly submitting — and helping people make — false statements on their PPP and EIDL applications, then pocketing some of the funds disbursed to borrowers, some of which who were “legitimate PPP recipients.”

Investigators also said Okeke submitted her own falsified EIDL application, and found notes in her work desk that said, “I am making more than enough money,” “money comes to me easily,” “I am grateful I make $15k every month,” and “I  have an extra $5,000 every month.”

“Today the defendant in this case was held accountable for abusing her position of trust as a banker to facilitate millions of dollars of fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loans in exchange for kickbacks,” Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Agent Patricia Tarasca said. “The defendant used these stolen funds to enrich herself while small businesses were struggling during the pandemic.” 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York, Okeke was arrested for conspiring to steal millions in PPP funds and released on a $100,000 bond on Sept. 24, 2021. Back in 2021, co-conspirators Charlene Wint — also of the Bronx — and Hashim Campbell had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud.

DOJ Public Information Officer John Marzulli told the Bronx Times via email that Okeke pleaded not guilty on her charges, but was found guilty at trial this week. Other co-conspirators include Israel Viloria, Jose Anormaliza, Auguste Nipabi, Brahima Lengane and Anthony Castro, Marzulli said.

Okeke’s conviction is at least the second big fraud case to come out of the Bronx in recent months. Back in April, “the Magician” tax preparer Rafael Alvarez — owner of ATAX New York, LLC and its location in Marble Hill — was charged for allegedly swindling the Internal Revenue Service out of more than $100 million in tax revenue by falsifying his clients’ tax returns from 2010-2020.

Okeke’s sentencing date hasn’t been scheduled yet, Marzulli said, but according to the DOJ’s office she faces up to 30 years in prison.

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