A former pizza shop owner in Massachusetts has been sentenced to two years in prison for fraudulently obtaining more than $600,000 in Covid-19 relief funds and spending them on personal expenses, including buying a farm and eight alpacas in Vermont.
The fraudulent applications for pandemic aid
Dana L. McIntyre, 59, who now lives in Grafton, Vermont, pleaded guilty in April to four counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. He admitted that he submitted false applications to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for loans and grants for businesses that did not exist or were not eligible for the pandemic aid.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, McIntyre used the names of his adult children to file two applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) in March 2020 for businesses that did not exist. He also filed an application and weekly certifications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits from April 2020 to September 2020, claiming that he was not working or receiving income as a result of the pandemic, when he was actually still operating his pizza shop, Rasta Pasta Pizzeria, in Beverly, Massachusetts, and paying himself income from the business.
In addition, McIntyre submitted a fraudulent application for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of more than $660,000 in April 2020 through an SBA-approved lender. He inflated information about the pizza shop’s employees and payroll expenses and falsified an official tax form to qualify for a larger loan amount.
The PPP and EIDL programs were created by Congress to help small businesses retain employees and cover expenses during the Covid-19 pandemic. The PUA program was designed to provide unemployment benefits to individuals who were not eligible for regular unemployment insurance.
The lavish spending spree with the stolen money
After receiving the PPP loan in excess of $660,000, McIntyre sold the pizza shop and used nearly all the money to purchase a farm in Vermont, as well as eight alpacas, and fund other personal expenses, such as two vehicles and airtime for his cryptocurrency-themed radio show.
McIntyre opened the Houghtonville Farm in 2021, with its website stating that it offered people the chance to hand-feed and stroll with the animals at the property. He told The New York Times that he bought two alpacas as “lawn ornaments” but decided to start a business after they attracted attention.
He also bought a 2020 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and a 2019 Ford Mustang convertible with the stolen funds. He spent more than $15,000 on airtime for his radio show called “Dana Crypto Show”, where he discussed topics related to digital currencies.
McIntyre also used some of the money to pay off his personal debts and credit cards. He transferred some of the funds to his relatives and associates.
The legal consequences and restitution
McIntyre was sentenced on Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper to two years in prison and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $679,156 in restitution.
“Dana McIntyre capitalized on a national catastrophe and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a limited pool of money set aside to help struggling businesses to buy a farm, stock it with alpacas, and make a fresh start for himself in Vermont,” said Jodi Cohen, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Boston Division.
Acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell said that McIntyre’s actions were “a slap in the face” to legitimate businesses that suffered during the pandemic and needed the government assistance.
McIntyre’s attorney argued for a lesser sentence of one year, saying that he had no prior criminal record and that he had cooperated with the authorities. He also said that McIntyre had mental health issues and was remorseful for his actions.
McIntyre apologized to the court and said that he was “deeply ashamed” of what he had done. He said that he had made “a series of bad decisions” and that he hoped to rebuild his life after serving his sentence.