DADE CITY — A Pasco County resident has admitted to charges of misusing nearly $2 million in federal PPP loan money, including buying a 2020 Mercedes and a 2020 Ford F-250 truck.
Keith Nicoletta, 48, of Dade City, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to launder stolen COVID relief funds, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tampa. Nicoletta also agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, the two vehicles, property located in Pasco County and other funds and assets that are traceable proceeds of the offense, authorities say.
According to the plea agreement, in May Nicoletta and his conspirators stole more than $1.9 million in emergency loan funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, which were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. The fraudulent PPP loan application claimed Nicoletta’s local business had 69 employees with a purported monthly payroll exceeding $760,000 — or more than $9 million annually, officials contended. “In fact, the business had no employees and its address was actually Nicoletta’s home,” the release states.
Once the emergency loan was secured, the PPP funds were not used for qualified expenses. Instead, the conspirators immediately began laundering the money through several different financial institutions. Nicoletta also withdrew more than $100,000 in cash, the release states. In October, more than $40,000 in cash was recovered during a search of Nicoletta’s home.
“After laundering the PPP funds, Nicoletta spent lavishly, including the purchase of a 2020 Mercedes for more than $100,000, a 2020 special edition Ford F-250 pickup valued at more than $66,000, jewelry, and the installation of a pool at his home costing approximately $63,000,” the release states. “None of the money, however, was used for payroll, as Congress had intended.”
Nicoletta faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison
Nicoletta is at least the second person in the region federal authorities have charged with allegedly falsely using PPP loan funds. In early September, Target Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc. President Casey David Crowther, of Fort Myers, was charged with using federal coronavirus relief funds for personal use, including buying a 40-foot boat for nearly $700,000. Crowther applied for and received a loan of $2,098,700 under the federal Payroll Protection Program, according to that case’s criminal complaint.