A Miami real estate broker was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for bilking the government out of $381,000 in COVID relief funds — which she used to splurge on a Bentley, luxury apartment and cosmetic procedures.
Daniela Rendon, 31, pleaded guilty in April to one count of wire fraud, having been indicted in February on six additional counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors ended up dropping the additional charges.
Rendon, a Colombian-born mother of three, said during her sentencing in Miami federal court Thursday that her actions had been “motivated by insatiable greed” — because it appeared that “everybody” was fraudulently obtaining COVID-19 relief loans at the time, the Miami Herald reported.
Once feds uncovered Rendon had been fleecing the loan programs, however, the onetime “Ultra Luxury” real estate agent realized she hadn’t been harming the “faceless entities of the U.S. government,” but rather “countless individuals and businesses” that had been walloped by an “unparalleled period of economic distress.”
US District Judge K. Michael Moore said that Rendon’s confession, along with her hefty 30-page apology, led him to hand down the lenient sentence, ultimately sparing her an additional year in the clink.
“It’s not as easy to see that you’re really stealing from your neighbors, your friends and other citizens,” Moore said.
“It’s their money that goes to the Treasury that makes it possible to have these kinds of programs.”
The PPP swindler could have faced up to 20 years on the lone wire fraud charge. Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Bailyn suggested Rendon serve a three-and-a-half-year sentence while her defense attorney, Robert Mandell, asked for just five years’ probation.
In addition to jail time, Rendon has to repay $198,990 to the feds.
During the early days of the pandemic, the federal government rushed to prop up floundering businesses with emergency funding that would help them cover essential overhead costs.
The Small Business Administration quickly set up financial relief programs, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program loans, to help those struggling.
Rendon, however, took advantage of the vulnerable programs by falsifying records linked to her real estate business — including her annual revenue, payroll, costs of products, IRS tax info and number of employees — to qualify for the COVID-era relief funding.
She wound up landing a $371,290 PPP loan and a $10,000 EIDL loan, according to the federal indictment.
Rather than use the funds for legitimate business costs, Rendon proceeded to blow the windfall on leasing a 2021 Bentley Bentayga, which she flaunted on her Instagram, and renting a luxe Biscayne Bay apartment. She also used her ill-gotten gains to cover cosmetic procedures and refurbish her designer shoes.
A June report by the Office of the Inspector General for the Small Business Administration, which oversaw the federal aid disbursement, found that 17% of the $1.2 trillion doled out in PPP and EIDL loans had been stolen through fraud schemes.