SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office stopped $4.15 million from getting into the wrong hands.
Deputies arrested eight suspects believed to be involved in an alleged fraud scheme following a lengthy investigation.
It all started in Nov. 2020 after Sarasota County government employees contacted the sheriff’s office about suspected fraud. It was through a partnership between the county’s Office of Financial Management and the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller that employees were able to flag 200 suspicious CARES Act applications. Once detectives started investigating, they found 114 of the applications were submitted by SRQ Financial Solutions LLC, a business located at 4034 N. Washington Blvd., in Sarasota.
Sheriff Kurt Hoffman described SRQ Financial Solutions LLC as a tax preparation business.
“The ringleader of the operation is Peria Rhodes. SRQ Financial Solutions is registered under her name. She ran the operation and submitted the application on behalf of her clients,” said Sheriff Hoffman. “In total, more than $319,000 was released because of her applications. A few appeared to be legitimate. The majority of which are fraudulent,”
Deputies seized multiple computers and more than 1,500 files during a search warrant in February.
“As detectives began interviews with more than two dozen clients who saw services through SRQ Financial Solutions, they learned the business collected a $150 application fee to submit a CARES Act application on behalf of the client. They would then take 20% of the funds as payment once the funds were released by the county. During interviews, several clients told detectives they were never asked for financial information about their business until after the application had been submitted. When presented copies of 2019 profit and loss statements that SRQ Financials Solutions submitted on their behalf, several clients admitted the numbers were false; some told detectives their businesses were not even operational in 2019,” said Sheriff Hoffman.
Based on applications that are still pending approval by the county, detectives estimate the investigation stopped an additional $4.15 million from being released.
“Those folks came in seeking help and they got kind of wrapped up in this whole criminal episode,” said the sheriff. “It really is a double fraud on the taxpayers in that there may have been legitimate businesses out there that wanted it, didn’t get it,” he explained.
The suspects’ charges are as follows.
- Peria Rhodes is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has prior arrests for Fraud, Sale of Cocaine, and Possession of a Controlled Substance.
- Raelyn Tillman is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has no prior local arrests.
- Maria Bradley is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has prior arrests for Fraud, Theft, and Violation of Probation.
- Demetris “Nikki” Sheppard is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has no prior local arrests.
- William Rhodes is charged with Theft and Perjury. He has several prior arrests on charges including Burglary with Battery, Possession of Cocaine, Resisting with Violence, Fleeing to Elude, Aggravated Stalking, and more.
- Shaneice Rhodes is charged with Theft and Perjury. She has one local prior arrest for Fraud.
- Shaquaya Cooper is charged with Theft and Perjury. She has no prior local arrests.
- Eddie Yarn is charged with Theft and Perjury. He has several prior arrests on charges including Trafficking in Stolen Property, Burglary, Resisting with Violence, Indecent Exposure, Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, Fleeing to Elude, Fraud, and more.
“The Secret Service is a proud partner with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. The hard work and determination of the investigators in this case is the reason we stand here today. The result of this investigation are a testament to our belief that building strong, trusted partnerships across the law enforcement community is a proven model for success. The Secret Service along with partners like the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office remain committed to aggressively protecting our nation’s financial infrastructure from criminal opportunists who would choose to exploit government programs designed to help and provide relief to the American public,” said Rick Dean with the Tampa Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service.
SCSO is continuing its investigation. If you or your business has had any dealings with SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC, you are strongly encouraged to contact the Criminal Investigations Section at 941.861.4900.