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Baltimore woman used fake documents to get $1.6 million in COVID relief funds, feds say

A Baltimore woman received $1.6 million in federal loans designed to help small businesses survive the pandemic by submitting false loan applications on behalf of shell and dormant companies she controlled, according to a federal indictment.

Nichelle Henson, 35, filed more than a dozen loan applications in the past two years, claiming she had nearly 50 employees and hundreds of thousands in monthly revenues, prosecutors said. In reality, according to the indictment, none of the companies, using names such as Peace of Mind Services, Women Entrepreneurs Can Succeed and Nichelle Henson Campaign, employed anybody.

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The 18-count indictment said investigators have filed to seize about $600,000 held by Henson in several bank accounts, but does not indicate where the rest of the money is.

“It is reprehensible that fraudsters try to take advantage of this global pandemic to line their own pockets,” United States Attorney for Maryland Erek L. Barron said in a statement.

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Henson, who is not in custody, does not have an attorney listed in online court records. She is scheduled to make her first court appearance Thursday afternoon.

Henson filed to run for Baltimore City Council in 2019 but dropped out quickly. The state elections database does not list any campaign finance reports for Henson.

As COVID-19 closures and lockdowns ravaged the economy, the federal government set up several programs to help businesses and employees deal with the fallout Federal prosecutors say that Henson took advantage of several of them filing false bank loan applications to “to obtain Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in the names of multiple businesses.”

“We are pleased that SIGPR is getting results for the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) Task Force,” Brian D. Miller, special inspector general for pandemic recovery, said in a statement.

Henson faces up to 30 years if convicted, although federal sentencing guidelines typically result in a far shorter sentence.

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