Williston CEO receives sentence in COVID aid fraud

A Williston businessman received a 66-month federal prison sentence in connection with COVID-19 pandemic relief funds.

According to a Tuesday press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, Patrick Parker Walsh, 42, of Williston was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering in connection to COVID-19 pandemic relief.

Walsh is the CEO of AirSign Airship Group LLC, a business headquartered in Levy County that claims to be the world’s largest blimp company. According to the release, from April 7, 2020 to Jan. 21, 2021, Walsh submitted 16 fraudulent applications to multiple federally insured financial institutions and other lenders for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans under his blimp company and names of multiple businesses.

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“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Coody in the press release. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting millions of dollars in emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale. Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves. With our law enforcement partners, we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who engage in acts of COVID-related fraud.”

Patrick Parker Walsh
AirSign Patrick Parker Walsh

Several discrepancies were found in Walsh’s PPP loan applications that included: no record of some employees that were listed in Walsh’s applications, that the number of employees listed in multiple applications was more than previously listed in employer tax records, and that some of the companies claimed in the applications were not even established businesses as of Feb. 15, 2020 (the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic relief programs), according to the release. Walsh also used several of the same employees on PPP loan applications for different companies, investigations revealed.

Following Walsh’s imprisonment, he will have three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the SBA in the amount of $7,818,167, and the Court entered an order of forfeiture in the same amount.

“Today, the defendant in this case was brought to justice for exploiting Federal relief programs and using the obtained funds for his personal gain,” said Special Agent in Charge Kyle Myles, of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), in the press release.  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold those accountable who take advantage of such programs and undermine the integrity of our Nation’s banking system.”

Walsh applied for $11,950,439 in PPP loan funds and he received a total of $4,996,167. From March 2020 and July 2020, Walsh submitted a total of 18 fraudulent applications to the SBA for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), in his own name and in the name of his wife. Walsh’s false EIDL applications were approved and a total of $2,822,000 was disbursed to him.

“Taxpayers thinking about stealing from government relief programs should stop in their tracks and simply look at the consequences of taking the next step,” said Ronald Loecker IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge, in the press release. “Today’s sentencing is the result of federal law enforcement banding together to enforce not only the nation’s tax laws, but especially cases where someone, for their own personal benefit, steals resources from the American people.”

Walsh also engaged in several monetary transactions involving at least $10,000 of fraudulently obtained PPP loan funds or EIDL proceeds he obtained through his wire fraud scheme. These transactions included payments for the purchase of oil leases, to pay off his mortgage and for real estate in Florida and Texas.

“Patrick Walsh abused a program that was designed to ease suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Sherri Onks, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division, in the press release.  “Instead of using millions of dollars in federal funds to help keep struggling businesses afloat and honest workers employed, he selfishly diverted it for his own personal gain. The FBI will hold accountable anyone who takes advantage of those in need during a national emergency, and we remain committed to working with our partners to ensure fraudsters are brought.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) designed the PPP to provide low-interest, forgivable loans to qualified business applicants to help fund certain permissible expenses. Those expenses included payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.  The SBA also administered the EIDL program to provide low-interest loans to small businesses in regions affected by declared disasters. The CARES Act authorized the SBA to provide EIDLs, up to $2 million, to eligible small businesses experiencing substantial financial disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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It’s curious that there were so many people able to defraud the system while there were also so many companies with REAL needs that were denied coverage. That whole system seems like it was messed up.

More proof that too much government is a bad thing? Even when they try to redistribute taxpayer money to what they think is a good idea, it usually doesn’t work out. After so many things going wrong, it would be nice if they went back to what the government was designed to do in the first place. America doesn’t work well as a nanny state.