Businessman allegedly stole almost $8 million in COVID reduction assist to purchase a personal island in Florida, oil fields in Texas

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A freshwater spring bubbles amid the mangroves, cabbage palms and purple cedars on Sweetheart Island, a two-acre uninhabited patch of paradise a couple of mile off the coast of this little Gulf Coast city.

Pelicans divebomb close by into the cool waters of Florida’s Withlacoochee Bay and the open view westward holds the promise of dazzling sunsets.

Patrick Parker Walsh, left, heads to his automotive along with his spouse in Gainesville, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, after he was sentenced to 5 and a half years in federal jail for stealing almost $8 million in federal COVID-19 reduction funds. 

Augustus Hoff / AP

Luxurious watches, diamond jewellery and Lamborghinis  

The thieves got here from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. There was a Tennessee rapper who bragged in regards to the ease of stealing greater than $700,000 in pandemic unemployment insurance coverage on YouTube. A former pizzeria proprietor and host of a cryptocurrency-themed radio present purchased an alpaca farm in Vermont with pilfered assist. And an ex-Nigerian authorities official who grabbed about half 1,000,000 {dollars} in COVID-19 reduction advantages was sporting a $10,000 watch and $35,000 gold chain when he was arrested.

Investigators will not catch each criminal. The size and scope of the fraud are too giant. Pandemic circumstances usually rely upon digital proof, which is perishable, and the monetary path can go chilly over time, mentioned Bob Westbrooks, former government director of the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

Konstantinos Zarkadas, a New York physician deeply in debt, joined the rogues’ gallery of COVID-19 fraudsters by falsifying no less than 11 separate functions for pandemic assist that netted him nearly $3.8 million, in accordance with prosecutors. He purchased Rolex and Cartier wristwatches valued at $140,000 for himself and members of the family and made a hefty down cost on a yacht, in accordance with courtroom information.

The state of New York revoked Zarkadas’ medical license shortly after he was sentenced to greater than 4 years in jail for swiping the pandemic assist.

Oudomsine spent almost $58,000 on a 1999 Charizard Pokémon card, which depicts a gold dragon-like creature, jaws vast open, poised to assault.

Whereas not as priceless as uncommon baseball playing cards – a mint situation Mickey Mantle card offered for $12.6 million final yr – Pokémon merchandise can command huge cash as collectors have pushed up costs for collectibles issued by the favored franchise.

“I really feel silly each time I say it: Pokémon card,” Bowen mentioned earlier than sending Oudomsine to jail for 3 years.

“His crimes are egregious”  

Walsh operated a small fleet of cigar-shaped blimps that flew company logos over crowded venues. In June 2017, one in every of his blimps crashed and burned on stay tv on the males’s U.S. Open golf event, one of many world’s premier sporting occasions.

U.S. District Decide Allen C. Winsor did not purchase the argument.

This was not “a single second of weak point,” Winsor mentioned in sentencing Walsh in January to greater than 5 years behind bars.

As a part of his plea deal, Walsh agreed to return the $7.8 million he stole and to promote Sweetheart Island, which was amongst his first purchases with the stolen federal cash, in accordance with the courtroom information.

Withlacoochee Bay is scattered with comparable small, uninhabited islands. The one trace that anybody had ever tried to develop Sweetheart Island have been a couple of low, timeworn cinder block partitions that stretch into the water. There was nonetheless a “For Sale” signal posted on a weather-beaten and leafless tree that resembled a scarecrow warning individuals to remain away.

Related Press reporter Richard Lardner kayaks to Sweetheart Island, off the coast of Yankeetown, Fla., on Aug. 5, 2023. 

Julio Aguilar / AP

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