TULSA, Okla. -- A project manager employed by Walmart was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday for fraudulently seeking more than $8 million in forgivable loans meant for covid-19 relief.
Benjamin Hayford, 32, of Centerton was a senior manager, global technology operations and portfolio at Walmart.
Hayford pleaded guilty in August to one count of bank fraud and four counts of making false statements to a financial institution.
Authorities said Hayford sought loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. He went to numerous banks claiming fictitious payroll expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Hayford provided lenders with fake documents designed to trick them into forking over money to cover payroll expenses that didn't exist, authorities said.
Additionally, Hayford made false representations to a financial institution concerning the date a Limited Liability Partnership for which he applied for relief was established, prosecutors said. The lenders declined to fund the loans Hayford sought.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted March 29. It was created to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of U.S. citizens who were negatively affected by the covid-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and other expenses through the Paycheck Protection Program. In April, Congress authorized an additional $300 billion in funding.
The program allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%. The loan proceeds had to be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities, according to the law. The program allowed the interest and principal to be forgiven as long as businesses spent the money on the permitted expenses within a specific period.
To obtain such a loan, a small business had to submit an application signed by an authorized representative of the business to acknowledge program rules and to make certain certifications, such as the amount of its monthly payroll expenses and its number of employees. Authorities said Hayford submitted paperwork with false information.
He was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan in a Tulsa, Okla., courtroom, according to a Justice Department news release.
The U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Arkansas assisted Oklahoma authorities in the case, prosecutors said.
Hayford's two-year prison sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release, according to the Justice Department.
CLARIFICATION: Benjamin Hayford, who was sentenced Monday in Oklahoma to two years in federal prison, pleaded guilty to fraudulently applying for federal covid-19 relief funds through a Texas-based company, Global Policy & Strategy Partners. Hayford’s crimes were not affiliated with Walmart, where he was a senior manager, global technology operations and portfolio, nor his work for the retailer. A Walmart spokesman said the company fired Hayford after he pleaded guilty to the federal charges. Hayford’s business affiliations weren’t completely described in an earlier version of this article.
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