SARASOTA — Eight residents in the region have been charged in a complex, six-month fraud scheme where authorities contend the group defrauded a federal pandemic relief fund of at least $319,000.
The group was charged Monday, April 19, when the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office confirmed a $4 million fraud scheme involving Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Sarasota County Government employees contacted authorities in November 2020 after noticing several suspicious CARES act applications, according to a statement. The CARES Act of 2020 is a $2 trillion economic relief package that was launched September 2020. It was designed to absorb economic impacts of COVID-19.
With the help of the county’s Office of Financial Management and the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller, detectives were able to identify 200 fraudulent applications, the release from the Sheriff's office states. Of those, 114 were filed by SRQ Financial Solutions LLC, a tax preparation business located at 4034 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, the release stated.
“This was a complex and lengthy investigation that our detectives handled professionally and thoroughly,” Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman says in the release. “In cases that involve white-collar crime and fraud, there are a lot of moving parts, financial statements to review, and fact-checking.”
Of the 114 applications submitted by SRQ Financial Solutions LLC, detectives identified several suspicious profit and loss statements, as well as fictitious bank statements. These findings led to a search warrant at the business Feb. 24, where detectives found over 1,500 files of small business loan applications and fictitious tax documents.
“The dedication and diligence of the county team that managed the federally funded CARES program, is a testament of our commitment to the community,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis adds in the release. “The entire process was very successful providing members of our community the funding assistance needed during the pandemic.”
Upon further investigation, detectives learned from several clients that the business allegedly charged $150 to submit a CARES Act application before collecting 20% of the funds released from the county. The press release added that clients weren’t asked for their business’ financial information until after the application was submitted. Warrants were issued April 15 for eight people involved in this alleged scheme, including
- Peria Rhodes, Sarasota, is charged with a single count of scheme to defraud more than $50,000.
- Raelyn Tillman, Port Charlotte, is charged with a single count of scheme to defraud more than $50,000.
- Maria Bradley, Sarasota, is charged with a single count of scheme to defraud more than $50,000.
- Demetris “Nikki” Sheppard, Sarasota, is charged with a single count of scheme to defraud more than $50,000.
- William Rhodes, Sarasota, is charged with theft and perjury.
- Shaneice Rhodes, Sarasota, is charged with theft and perjury.
- Shaquaya Cooper, Bradenton, is charged with theft and perjury.
- Eddie Yarn, Bradenton, is charged with theft and perjury.
For those who have dealt with SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC, the Criminal Investigations Section can be contacted at 941-861-4900.