Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Two Minneapolis-Based Business Consultants Charged in $1 Million Pandemic Aid Fraud Scheme

COVID-19 pandemic aid programs of more than $1 million while serving as business advisors to Hennepin County, announced U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when small businesses were suffering deep economic losses, local and federal government agencies stepped in to provide support. These defendants saw this as an opportunity to defraud the aid programs by submitting phony invoices and applications for benefits," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. "I commend the skilled investigators and prosecutors who work diligently to hold accountable those who defraud the aid programs designed to support our small business community."

According to court documents, beginning in 2020, through the present, Tezzaree El-Amin Champion, 27, and Marcus Alexander Hamilton, 27, devised and carried out a fraud scheme to obtain funds from a variety of federal, state, local, and private COVID-19 relief programs. Through their company, Futuristic Management Group LLC, a Minnesota-based small business consulting firm, the defendants submitted fraudulent applications for PPP loans, pandemic relief, and other funds on behalf of their small business clients and their own entities.

As part of the scheme, Champion, who was the founder and chief executive officer of Futuristic Management, and Hamilton, who was the chief operating officer, caused the consulting firm to enter into contracts with Hennepin County under a COVID-19 relief program called "Elevate Business," also known as "Elevate Hennepin." Elevate Business is a small business assistance program designed to provide local small businesses with no-cost marketing and website assistance. Under the contracts, Hennepin County agreed to pay Futuristic Management to provide technical assistance services to client businesses that were located in Hennepin County at no cost to the clients. Instead of abiding by the terms of the contracts, Champion and Hamilton billed Hennepin County for work not actually performed, and for work for which Champion and Hamilton were being paid by their clients, when the contracts required that Futuristic Management's work be provided at no cost.

As part of the scheme, Champion and Hamilton also submitted fraudulent PPP and EIDL loan applications and Hennepin County Small Business Relief grant applications on behalf of their clients and their own entities. When clients received the loans and grants, Champion and Hamilton transferred and misappropriated a portion of the funds for themselves.

Also as part of the scheme, Champion intimidated clients by showing them a firearm and telling them he always carried a firearm. On April 26, 2023, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Champion's residence in Andover. Inside the home, agents found $126,000 in U.S. currency in a locked safe, and a Ruger LCR .357 revolver. Because Champion has a prior felony conviction, he is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition at any time.

In total, Champion and Hamilton's fraud resulted in losses of more than $1 million in COVID-19 pandemic aid and involved more than 100 fraudulent invoices and grant and loan applications.

Champion and Hamilton were charged with three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of government money, and one count of engaging in a monetary transaction in property derived from specified unlawful activity. Champion was also charged with one count of possessing a firearm as a felon. The defendants made their initial appearances earlier today in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by IRS-Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Crimes Investigations Division.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew D. Forbes and Joseph H. Thompson are prosecuting the case.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.


Reader Comments(0)

Rendered 06/15/2024 19:08