It was a Texas-sized fraud.
A Houston man was sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing $1.6 million in COVID-19 relief aid and using it to buy a $230,000 Lamborghini, a new home and office and to pay for trips to strip clubs and nights out on the town.
Lee Price III, 30, pleaded guilty in September to defrauding the government by filing false applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans, claiming he had dozens of workers, when he, in fact, employed no one.
Prosecutors say Price submitted loan applications in 2020 for three businesses he said employed between 30 to 75 people each and that had hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll expenses each month. But a search of tax and Texas labor records showed that none of the businesses had any employees, prosecutors said.
In one case, Price allegedly listed an 88-year-old man who had recently died as chief executive of one of the companies, forging his signature on the loan applications. In another instance, he used the Social Security number for his father, who has the same name, to apply for one of the loans.
Authorities say Price also lied on the PPP applications by stating he didn’t have a criminal record, when he had two convictions for forgery in 2010 and robbery in 2011, and was facing pending state charges for tampering with government records when he was arrested.
Overall, prosecutors say Price received more than $1.6 million in fraudulently obtained loans.
Once he received the money, prosecutors say Price quickly bought a $230,000 Lamborghini Urus SUV, an $85,000 Ford F-350 pickup and a $14,000 Rolex watch. He also paid two down payments of over $100,000 each on a home and office space, and tens of thousands more to lease a luxury apartment in downtown Houston.
Prosecutors said Price used thousands of dollars of the ill-gotten money for trips to strip clubs, night clubs and liquor store bills.
Price filed notice on the day he was sentenced that he intended to appeal. A message left for his attorney wasn’t immediately returned.