Tallahassee couple sentenced in COVID-19 relief program scams

According to court documents, Wilbert Stanley III and Felicia Jackson-Stanley applied for and received nearly $5M from COVID relief programs.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 12:27 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A Tallahassee couple behind multiple business ventures, including Island Seafood, was sentenced to federal prison time this week after pleading guilty to charges connected to an alleged COVID-19 relief scam.

A news release from the Department of Justice lays out that Wilbert Stanley III and Felicia Jackson-Stanley pleaded guilty to counts of wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and making false statements.

Court documents reveal the two submitted 166 COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications, listing companies like PlaySports Bar, LLC, and Island Daiquiris Bar & Grill, LLC, now Island Seafood, according to a name change filed with the Florida Division of Corporations. Other businesses listed in the documents include USA United Law Firm, LLC, Yep We Kan Promotions, Inc. and A Call Away Transportation, LLC.

50 of those applications were funded, according to the government, and the businesses were reportedly ones that the couple owned or were in the names of other individuals “whom they recruited.” The applications were allegedly filed between March 1, 2020 and around September 1, 2021. According to the DOJ, the couple obtained more than $4.8 million dollars total.

Island Seafood opened January 2021, and about a month later WCTV spoke with Felicia Jackson Stanley about what it was like to operate a business in the midst of the pandemic.

“A lot of people were looking for a lot of jobs due to the unemployment rate and due to COVID-19 but we’re grateful that we’ve been able to employ a lot of unemployed people around here so they can feed their families hold their families and pay bills so we’re just grateful for that,” Stanley said in February 2021.

More than a year after that interview, on June 17, 2022, a case against the couple was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

On Monday, Wilbert Stanley III was sentenced to 40 months in prison, and Felicia Jackson-Stanley was sentenced to 24 months in prison. They were also ordered to pay more than $2.8 million in restitution to the Small Business Administration. After they are released from prison, the two will have 3 years of supervised release according to the Justice Department.

The couple’s attorney Alex Morris released a statement to WCTV on Thursday.

Nationwide, several agencies continue to work on tracking down possible fraud related to COVID-19 relief programs. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a government watchdog group closely following the money, estimates more than $183 billion dollars in pandemic response funds have gone directly toward small businesses. That includes PPP loans, American Rescue Plan Act funds and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act funds.

Last April, the head of the SBA announced plans to expand resources dedicated to cracking down on the problem.

The SBA and the Justice Department both also have dedicated ways to submit complaints about possible fraud.

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