The daughter of a former South Florida mayor who recently ran for Congress has been sentenced to prison for lying to obtain $300,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.
Damara Holness on Monday was ordered to report to federal prison by noon on April 25 to serve a 20-month sentence for the Paycheck Protection Program fraud. The program was designed to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic. The judge on Monday also sentenced Holness, daughter of former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness, to five years of supervised release.
She pleaded guilty in November, a day after a Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat that her father ended up losing by five votes.
“The defendant saw this as an opportunity to unjustly enrich herself by defrauding the program designed to help those struggling businesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan wrote in court records.
Damara Holness’ lawyer, Sue-Ann Robinson, said it “was more an act of desperation than greed.” She said some of the money went toward “housing arrangements” and taxes.
Holness apologized to the community, the government and to her family, the South Florida SunSentinel reported. She noted that she’s affected her father’s career.
Dale Holness said his daughter has “accepted responsibility for her mistake. We’re all human. She’s acknowledged it.”
According to court records, Damara Holness, 28, applied for the loan for her company, Holness Consulting. The application claimed that the company had an average monthly payroll $120,000 in 2019 for its 18 employees.
The business was incorporated in November 2018 before becoming inactive.
“The defendant reinstated the business on June 22, 2020, in order to obtain the PPP loan. The business had no employees and virtually no income,” the prosecutor wrote in court documents.
Prosecutors said Holness spent months creating a paper trail after receiving the money.
Court documents showed she paid 22 people, including a school bus driver and a security guard, about $1,300 every two weeks. Once they cashed the checks, the “employees” kept $300 and returned the rest to Holness.
Defense attorneys urged the judge to give her a lenient sentence because she cooperated with investigators and she has a young child.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence between 33 and 41 months “to promote respect for the law.” They also noted that Holness committed the crimes while pregnant and was “well aware that she was giving birth and that if she was caught that she could go to jail.”