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Former Vice President and Branch Manager of Popular Bank Convicted of Fraud and Money Laundering Charges

June 19, 2024

From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York

Defendant Led Scheme to Defraud Federal Emergency Financial Assistance Programs out of Millions of Dollars in Pandemic Aid

Anuli Okeke, the former vice president and manager of a New York branch of Popular Bank was convicted yesterday afternoon by a federal jury in Brooklyn of all four counts of an indictment charging her with conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering conspiracy.  The charges arose out of a scheme the defendant led to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The verdict followed a one-week trial before United States District Judge Frederic Block.  When sentenced, Okeke faces up to 30 years in prison.

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, Head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration (SSA-OIG); James Smith, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation New York Field Office (FBI); Patricia Tarasca, Special Agent-in-Charge, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, New York Regional Office (FDIC OIG); Brian Tucker, Special Agent-in-Charge, Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Eastern Region; and Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite, Special Agent-in-Charge, Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Eastern Region Office (SBA-OIG), announced the verdict.

“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,” stated United States Attorney Peace.  “This verdict reaffirms that our Office and law enforcement partners continue to bring to justice those who took advantage of a global crisis to commit crimes.”

“The jury’s verdict confirms that Anuli Okeke’s actions were not only criminal but also exploitive, damaging the integrity of programs put in place to help those suffering during a time of national crisis. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate those who misuse the identities of others for their selfish devices,” stated SSA Inspector General Ennis.  “I commend our law enforcement partners for their outstanding work in this investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecuting this case and holding Ms. Okeke accountable for her crimes.”

“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. The defendant used these stolen funds to enrich herself while small businesses were struggling during the pandemic,” stated FDIC-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Tarasca.  “The FDIC OIG remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the Nation’s financial system and hold accountable those individuals, like Ms. Okeke, who steal benefits designated to help those in need.”

“Anuli Okeke used her position to defraud the federal government of pandemic relief funds for her own personal gain and will now pay the price for her crimes,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge Tucker, Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.  “We are proud to have worked with our federal law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hold Ms. Okeke accountable.”

“The abuse of critical resources, intended to support small businesses during a time of unprecedented need, will not be tolerated,” stated SBA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge McCall-Braithwaite.  “Today’s verdict is a testament to our unwavering dedication to protecting the integrity of SBA’s programs. Our collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners is essential to ensuring that those who defraud the government are brought to justice and the taxpayer interest are protected.”

COVID-19 Relief Overview

The CARES Act was enacted to provide emergency financial assistance in connection with economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the allocation of funds for the issuance of forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP.  The PPP allowed qualifying small businesses to receive unsecured loans on favorable terms, which they were required to use for specified expenses, including payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.  The PPP provided for forgiveness of the loan if recipient businesses spent the proceeds on these specified expenses within a limited time period and used a certain percentage for payroll costs.

Another source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the EIDL program, which provided low-interest financing to small businesses, renters and homeowners in regions affected by declared disasters.  Under the program, EIDL recipients were eligible to receive advances of up to $10,000 for small businesses within three days of applying for an EIDL (EIDL Advance).  The amount of an EIDL Advance was determined based on the number of employees working for the applicant.  The EIDL Advance did not have to be repaid.

Criminal Conduct

As proven at trial, Okeke, and her co-conspirators, both from within and outside the bank fabricated loan and tax documents and stole funds from the PPP and EIDL programs.  Despite knowing that the PPP and EIDL applications contained false statements, and helping applicants make those false statements, Okeke signed each PPP loan application on behalf of the bank and submitted them for approval.  Once the loan proceeds were disbursed to the borrowers, Okeke and her co-conspirators took kickbacks from the loan proceeds.  The defendant also submitted her own fraudulent EIDL loan that contained false information.  In addition, the defendant also took unauthorized commissions from legitimate PPP recipients.

As shown at trial, the defendant boasted about her earnings from the scheme.  In handwritten notes found at her desk at work, the defendant wrote “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 $5000 every month.”  Around the time of the scheme, the defendant’s bank accounts saw an influx of cash deposits. 

Prior to the defendant’s conviction at trial, seven other co-conspirators pled guilty to wire and bank fraud conspiracy in connection with the defendant’s pandemic aid fraud conspiracy at the bank.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section as well as the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Chand Edwards-Balfour and Adam Amir and Trial Attorney Jennifer Bilinkas are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Paralegal Specialists Samuel Ronchetti, Michaela Ausbrooks, and April Ward.   

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