Mobile man convicted of stealing fake armored truck pleads guilty to CARES Act fraud

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A man convicted last year of staging a fake heist of his armored truck pleaded guilty on Wednesday to filing a fake request for COVID-19 funds while locked up on the original charge .

Jonah Tamoni Bessard, 26, of Mobile, pleaded guilty in US District Court to wire fraud. He applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress created as part of the CARES (Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act to help businesses affected by the pandemic.

Bessard said he was the sole owner of a retail store founded in 2016; that he had a monthly income of $8,333 before the pandemic; and that he earned $104,000 in the 2020 tax year. All of this, according to his written plea agreement, was false.

Court records say a series of “selfies” Bessard submitted with his ID verification request show a bunk bed and light fixture in the background, indicating he was at the Clarke County Jail in then awaiting sentencing in the armored truck case. .

Still, the Small Business Administration approved the loan and deposited $20,833 into Bessard’s account in May of last year. He used most of that money to buy Bitcoin, buy cellphone minutes, and transact on Amazon and Google, the plea document says.

During a “compliance check”, prison staff members in June 2021 discovered that Bessard had a cell phone containing images of himself and evidence that he was using the device to communicate and perform tasks. financial transactions using Cash App.

Bessard’s attorney, Stewart Hanley, declined to comment after Wednesday’s hearing. The defendant faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for this charge, although the actual sentence is likely to be less under the sentencing advisory guidelines. Prosecutors agreed to recommend that Bessard be sentenced at the lower end of that range.

Bessard previously admitted to loading his Brink’s truck with cash belonging to New Horizon Credit Union in January 2021 and then driving to Doug’s Quick Mart on Higgins Road. He bought coffee and then returned to the vehicle, where he pretended to be the victim of a hold-up, according to court documents. Court records show he got away with around $500,000.

Bessard also pleaded guilty in Mobile County Circuit Court in December to four counts of first-degree larceny related to the Brink’s truck incident. A judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison, divided into two years in prison, the rest suspended. This convict is running while he is serving his federal sentence.

The Paycheck Protection Program case is the third time Bessard has been arrested. A federal grand jury also charged him with promoting smuggling in prison, accusing him of having a homemade knife, or “rod”, while in Clark County Jail in Grove Hill. But in May, a judge granted a request from the US Attorney’s office to dismiss the charge “in the interests of justice”.

Another charge, alleging conspiracy to commit fraud related to the Paycheck Protection Program, will likely be dismissed when judges convict him in the fraud case. U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade set that sentence for November.

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Casey J. Nelson