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COVID crooks: The most outrageous relief fund scammers busted so far

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COVID crooks: The most outrageous relief fund scammers busted so far

These COVID crooks are getting a jab of justice.

Nearly $100 billion of COVID relief funds has been defrauded across the United States since the pandemic began, the Secret Service announced Tuesday, adding that there are almost 1,000 separate investigations into these startling financial frauds.

Two high profile athletes have already been cuffed for the crime: US Olympic speedskater Allison Marie Baver is accused of ripping off $10 million, as well as former New York Jets wide receiver and onetime millionaire Kenbrell Thompkins, whose damages are in the hundreds of thousands.

There have also been plenty of “average Joe” perps getting busted after spending their lavish relief dough on trivial purchases, such as flashy cars or rare, five-figure Pokémon cards (both true, real examples, sadly). Gotta catch ’em all, right?

A group of deceitful dingbats in Brooklyn were even found out after posing online with some $2 million of ill-begotten relief funds.

Read on for the most ridiculous, and egregious, COVID relief scammers that have been caught — so far.

Bronze medalist Allison Marie Baver

Allison Marie Baver is accused of taking a wrongful $10M in COVID relief funds.
Getty Images

The ice is getting awfully thin for this former Olympic speedskater.

The 41-year-old Baver — who medaled with the US women’s 3,000-meter relay team during the 2010 Vancouver games — was brought up last week on money laundering charges and eight counts of making a false statement to a bank after allegedly defrauding an estimated $10 million of COVID funds, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah. She applied for eight Paycheck Protection Program loans in April 2020, seeking the $10 million for her production company, Allison Baver Entertainment, which she founded in 2019, two years into her skating retirement.

The money was made out to Baver's production company, one she's accused of falsifying financial documents for.
The money was made out to Baver’s production company, one she’s accused of falsifying financial documents for.
Getty Images for Race To Erase M

Baver allegedly BS’d the government into believing she had a monthly payroll of $4.7M, whereas she actually had none at all, according to court documents. She also claimed to have employed between 100 and 430 people, which the feds are alleging to be phony.

Baver also transferred $150,000 to another production company, behind the August-released Ted Bundy film “No Man of God,” a film she cameoed in, KTSU reported.

Prosecutors are aiming to make Baver forfeit about $9.7 million of her funds. She could also do 40 years in prison if convicted on all counts, according to KTSU. She is due for arraignment on Jan. 18, 2022.

New York Jet Kenbrell Thompkins

The former wide receiver pled guilty to his fraud related crimes.
The former wide receiver pled guilty to his fraud-related crimes.
AP

Looks like he dropped the ball on this one.

Former Jets wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins pled guilty to one count of unauthorized access device fraud — the theft of banking or credit cards — and one count of aggravated identity fraud last October. He allegedly stole the identities of several Florida residents to apply for COVID unemployment benefits while in California. Thompkins was then awarded $300,000 in debit cards under false pretenses, which were sent to a South Florida address he was using, according to the Associated Press.

The AP also reported that he withdrew about $230,000 of those funds at various ATMs in Miami-Dade County. Thompkins — who spent an uneventful 2015 season with Gang Green — is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 6 and faces up to 12 years in prison.

Brooklyn man busted after spending $2M on flashy cars

Leon Miles, a Brooklyn man is accused of wrongfully taking PPP money to buy luxury cars.
Leon Miles of Brooklyn is accused of wrongfully taking PPP money to buy luxury cars.
instagram

Living life in the fast lane doesn’t always take you where you want to go.

Leon Miles, a 51-year-old Brooklyn man, was arrested for collecting about $2 million in PPP funds that allegedly fueled his lust for luxury cars, according to federal prosecutors.

After the forgivable loan of $1,904,593 hit Miles’ personal bank account, he withdrew hundreds of thousands in the upcoming days, spending $250,000 on a 2020 white Bentley Continental that he posed with on Instagram and $100,000 on a 2020 Cadillac Escalade, the prosecution alleged.

The loan was approved after Miles claimed that he had a monthly payroll of $768,838, used to employ 50 people through his company 114 Macon LLC, court papers indicated.

In reality, Miles had no taxable income, his company hadn’t filed a single tax return, and reported no wage payments in 2019. The listed address for the alleged business was also that of his home, the documents revealed.

If convicted, Miles could do 30 years in the slammer.

Young group of eight from Brooklyn pose with stolen millions online

Angel Cabrera is accused of defrauding PPP funds in New York City. He posed with the alleged money in social media photos.
Angel Cabrera is accused of defrauding PPP funds in New York City. He posed with the alleged money in social media photos.
US Department of Justice

The lifelong advice of “be careful what you post on social media” has come back to bite these Brooklyn buddies.

Bryan Abraham, 18, Carlos Vazquez, 20, Angel Cabrera, 18, Gianni Stewart, 19, Andre Ruddock, 25, Seth Golding, 18, Armani Miller, 24, and Johan Santos, 19, were indicted in federal court last May for conspiracy to commit access-device fraud, by allegedly stealing $2M in COVID funds that they also posed with in online photos — now being used as evidence by the feds.

Carlos Vazquez wasn't subtle with his fortune. He too stands accused of scamming COVID relief funds.
Carlos Vazquez wasn’t subtle with his fortune. He too stands accused of scamming COVID relief funds.
US Department of Justice

According to court papers, after stealing personal information from people in COVID-assistance programs, the group allegedly began funnelIng cash into their own bank accounts and withdrew the money throughout Brooklyn and Queens from June 2020 to April 2021.

Seth Golding is also among those accused of ripping off COVID funds and posting pictures of the money online.
Seth Golding is also among those accused of ripping off COVID funds and posting pictures of the money online.
US Department of Justice

They were caught with 100 KeyBank debit cards in the names of other people, ones which were used to make mass withdrawals from Capital One ATMs in South Brooklyn’s Flatlands and other spots in Eastern Queens, surveillance images and court documents indicate.

As if the photos of half the group flaunting the funds in social media photos weren’t enough, they also used the same addresses and cellphone numbers on several of the false claims, according to the prosecution.

Armani Miller was caught on camera withdrawing a large amount of cash.
Armani Miller was caught on camera withdrawing a large amount of cash.
US Department of Justice

NJ man gets time for stealing half a million in PPP

Earlier this month, Bernard Lopez, a 40-year-old man from Sayreville, NJ, was given two-and-a-half years in jail for taking PPP funds for a phony business and for also depositing a treasury check of $211,886 which was stolen and altered, according to prosecutors.

Lopez filed the fake PPP loan in June of 2020, claiming his phantom company employed 25 and had a monthly payroll of roughly $192,000 in expenses. He received $481,502 from a lender and put the funds toward personal use, the prosecution reported.

After multiple law enforcement agencies tracked him down in Florida during July 2020, he was brought back to New Jersey to stand trial.

Lopez was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered restitution of $137,000. He will also be forfeiting the $481,502, according to officials.

Georgia man blew $57K of relief on rare Pokémon card

Not even Team Rocket would stoop this low.

Vinath Oudomsine of Dublin, Ga., was arrested after using $57,789 of his Economic Injury Disaster Loan to buy an exclusive Pokémon card, according to federal court papers from October.

He is accused of falsely applying for the EIDL small business loan in July 2020, where Oudomsine stated he had been operating a company since 2018 with $235,000 in revenue and 10 employees on payroll.

In good faith, the Small Business Administration then deposited $85,000 into his bank account just a month later.

Prosecutors allege that last January, Oudomsine used a sizable chunk of the money to procure an unnamed Pokémon card that’s likely the envy of card-collecting kids everywhere.

Texas man Lee Price III pled guilty for using his COVID funds to buy fancy cars and a Rolex.
Texas man Lee Price III pled guilty for using his COVID funds to buy fancy cars and a Rolex.
Houston Police Department

Oudomsine could do 20 years in federal prison and faces fines as high as $250,000.

Texas man used wrongful $1.6M on Lamborghini; Rolex

Don’t expect any mercy here.

In November, Lee Price III, a 30-year-old Texas man, was sentenced to over nine years in prison after using $1.6 million in relief money to buy a Lamborghini Urus, a Ford F-350 truck and a Rolex watch, according to the Department of Justice.

Price, who pled guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges in September, was originally awarded the money by falsifying PPP loans, the DOJ reported.

He also altered payroll expenses and the amount of employees at three separate, unnamed businesses.

So far, the Justice Department has recovered more than $700,000 of the wrongfully issued funds.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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