TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida man who was caught using fraudulently obtained Paycheck Protection Program funds to buy several cars and a $4.9 million mansion in Seminole County learned his sentence, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Authorities said 47-year-old Don Cisternino, of Seminole County, fraudulently secured more than $7.2 million in emergency funds through a Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan in May 2020.
The program was designed to provide financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses were required to use the PPP loan for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.
Court documents stated Cisternino’s PPP loan application falsely claimed his business, MagnifiCo, had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million.
In reality, MagnifiCo’s only employee was Cisternino.
“In support of his PPP loan application, Cisternino submitted false W-2s for MagnifiCo’s purported employees, many of which listed the names and Social Security numbers of actual persons who were not MagnifiCo employees and who had not authorized Cisternino to use their identities,” the release said.
Once the emergency loan of $7.2 million was approved, authorities said Cisternino bought a Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, as well as a 12-acre estate in Seminole County with a 12,579 sq. ft. mansion. The home is currently on sale for $4.9 million.
After learning he was under investigation for fraud, Cisternino fled to Switzerland but was arrested as he attempted to enter Croatia from Slovenia by way of Italy.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Cisternino chose instead to use the funds he obtained as his personal pandemic piggyback,” said Ronald A. Loecker, IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge. “This sentencing should serve as a warning to those who might have engaged in similar fraudulent activity that holding those accountable for these crimes remains a high priority for federal authorities.”
Cisternino was sentenced to eight years and six months in federal prison for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and illegal monetary transaction.
He was also ordered to forfeit over $1 million that was seized from five different bank accounts, $7.21 million, which represents the total proceeds Cisternino obtained from the scheme, and $7.44 million in restitution to the U.S. Small Business Administration.