SARASOTA, Fla. — The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office says an investigation that started in November 2020 has stopped more than $4 million of CARES Act funding from being fraudulently given out.
Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said it all started when Sarasota County Government employees contacted law enforcement about suspected fraud after several CARES Act applications were filed.
Hoffman said as detectives started to check out the applications, they found 200 that were fraudulent. Of those 200, the sheriff said 114 came from SRQ Financial Solutions LLC.
In February, investigators executed a search warrant at the business where they seized more than 1,500 files including small business loan applications, false tax documents, and more, according to the sheriff.
SRQ Financial Solutions LLC was collecting $150 application fees from clients to submit a CARES Act application on their behalf and then would take 20 percent of the funds when they were released by the county, according to investigators.
Detectives said several clients of SRQ Financial Solutions LLC said they were never asked about providing financial information regarding their businesses until after it was sent.
When investigators showed clients copies of 2019 profit and loss statements that SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC submitted on their behalf, several of them admitted the numbers were incorrect. Some even said their businesses were not even operational in 2019, according to the sheriff's office.
Sheriff Hoffman said the "fabrication of the financial statements was done entirely by SRQ Financial Solutions employees."
On Thursday, arrest warrants were issued for eight people involved in the SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC scheme, the sheriff's office said. By Monday, they were all in custody, Hoffman added.
Sheriff Hoffman said the ringleader of the whole scheme is Peria Rhodes. Detectives said she had help from Raelyn Tillman, who is a notary, and helped manipulate financial statements.
Two other employees, Maria Bradley and Demetrius “Nikki” Sheppard are accused of helping the business submit the fraudulent applications.
The sheriff's office said Shaquaya Cooper, Shaneice Rhodes, William Rhodes, and Eddie Yarn all also helped with the operation.
“This was a complex and lengthy investigation that our detectives handled professionally and thoroughly,” Sheriff Hofman said.
Hoffman said the investigation led detectives to find more than $319,000 that had been released as the result of applications submitted by the business.
The sheriff's office said based on the number of applications still waiting to be approved by the county, detectives estimate the investigation stopped an additional $4.15 million from being released.
Sheriff Hoffman said this was just the beginning and detectives have several other fraudulent documents from SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC to go through.
Sheriff Hoffman asked that any who may have had dealings with SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC, contact the Criminal Investigations Section at 941-861-4900.
More information on the Sarasota County CARES Act process can be found here.
You can watch the entire press conference here.
What other people are reading right now:
►Breaking news and weather alerts: Get the free 10 Tampa Bay app
►Stay In the Know! Sign up now for the Brightside Blend Newsletter