Liberia: Ellen Corkrum Sued in the U.S. for Bank Fraud after Receiving US$6M from government’s payroll Protection Program
Monrovia – Nearly a year after the flawed justice system in Liberia dropped charges against one of most controversial figures of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf era, the justice system in the United States of America has nailed Ellen Corkrum for fraud.
US Alleges Fraud
In charges filed by the US Justice Department, Corkrum is being charge with bank fraud in the USA for fraudulently requesting US$7.9 million, of which US$6 was received, from the government’s payroll Protection Program.
The PPP was the brainchild of former President Donald Trump’s administration, set up to provide small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits.
As part of the program, funds could also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.
Under the program, fully forgiven funds are provided in the form of loans that will be fully forgiven when used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.
Previous Indictment in Liberia
Corkrum, a former U.S. military Black Hawk assault helicopter pilot, served as the managing director of the Liberia Airports Authority before clandestinely fleeing in the wake of an indictment by the Grand Jury of Montserrado County in 2013 on charges of economic sabotage, criminal facilitation, conspiracy to defraud the government, and making unauthorized transfers of funds from government accounts.
Corkrum was indicted, as was the First International Bank which was accused of conspiring with Corkrum and her then boyfriend, Melvin Johnson to make an unauthorized transfer of funds in the amount of US$56,750 from the account of the Liberia Airport Authority when Corkrum was the Managing Director.
Corkrum was also accused of transferring US$269,000 to a fictitious company, Diaspora Consulting, LLC and its CEO, Momar Dieng, through whom she reportedly attended the Kennedy Business School, Harvard University.
Many Liberians were caught by surprise in December 2019 when lawyers representing the Government of Liberia filed a motion for Nolle Prosequoi at Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice, requesting that all charges against Ms. Ellen Cockrum be dropped. On December 9, the government’s request was granted the same day by Judge Nancy F. Sammy of Criminal Court ‘C’.
FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the dropping of the charges against Corkrum was a prelude to the Weah administration appointing her as director of the Airport.
In the motion, the Assistant Minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice, Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, argued that the case has been pending before the court since 2013 without having the opportunity to serve defendant Corkrum with the Indictment or the Writ of Arrest to bring her under the jurisdiction of the court.
In 2015, some efforts were made to secure Corkrum’s extradition to Liberia. The Solicitor General at the time, Cllr. Betty L. Blamo, traveled to the United States to meet U.S. authorities but that did not materialize, making it impossible for Corkrum to be served her indictment or extradited to lead to prosecution. These constraints, the CDC-led government noted, led to her decision to finally drop charges against Corkrum.
Criminal Court ‘C’ Judge Sammie therefore granted prosecution’s request without hesitation, ultimately dismissing charges and the indictment against Corkrum.
At the time Judge Sammy said the court had “no alternative” but to agree with the government since “it is the Government of Liberia that has the responsibility to institute criminal charges against the accused person and prosecute them.”
Fake Names; Fraudulent Transactions
According to the charges filed in the US District Court for Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, Corkrum, used several aliases deceived authorities with criminal mischiefs.
From on or about April 27, 2020 through on or about June 17, 2020, in the Northern District of Georgia and elsewhere, the Corkrum, aka Hunter Vanpelt a/k/a Hunter Lauren Vanpelt a/k/a Ellen Corkrum a/k/a Ellen Yabba Kwame Corkrum, knowingly executed and attempted to execute a scheme and artifice to defraud financial institutions, the deposits of which were then insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation(FDIC), and to obtain, by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises moneys, funds, credits, assets, securities and other property owned by and under the custody and control of those financial institutions, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1344.
Under the Title 18 violation, a person who obtain any of the moneys, funds, credits, assets, securities, or other property owned by, or under the custody or control of, a financial institution, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, could be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.
The United States Small Business Administration(SBA) was an executive branch agency of the United States government that provided support to entrepreneurs and small business. The mission of the SBA was to maintain and strengthen the nation’s economic recovery of communities and disasters.
As part of this effort, the SBA enabled and provided for loans through banks, credit unions, and other lenders. These loans had government guarantees.
The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security(CARES) Act was a federal law enacted in or about March 2020 and was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who were suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One source of relief that the CARES Act provided was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for payroll, mortgage interest, rent/lease, and utilities, through a program referred to as the Paycheck Protection Program(PPP). In April 2020, the Congress authorized up to $310 billion in additional PPP funding.
The PPP allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive PPP loans. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interests on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allowed the interest and principal on the PPP loan to be entirely forgiven if the business spent the loan proceeds on these expense items within a designated period of time and used a certain percentage of the PPP loan proceeds for payroll expenses.
The amount of a PPP loan that a small business may have been entitled to receive was determined by the number of employees employed by the business and the business’s average payroll costs.
How Corkrum Fraud was Unearthed
In order to obtain a PPP loan, a qualifying business was required to submit a PPP loan application, which was signed by an authorized representative of the business. The PPP loan application required the business representative through its authorized representative to acknowledge the program rules and make certain affirmative certifications in order to be eligible to obtain the PPP loan. In the PPP loan application, the small business through its representative had to state among other things, its(a) average monthly payroll expenses and (b) number of employees. These figures were used to calculate the amount of money the small business was eligible to receive under the PPP. In addition, businesses applying for a PPP loan had to provide documentation showing their payroll expenses.
In qualifying for the loan, Corkrum had to certify that the funds would be used to retain workers and maintain payroll or to make mortgage payments, lease payments and utility payments, as specified under the Paycheck Protection Program Rule for unauthorized purposes, the federal government may hold me legally liable, such as for charge of fraud.
The SBA oversaw the PPP. However, individual PPP loans were issued by private, approved lenders who receive and processed PPP applications and supporting documentation directly or through third party processors, and then made loans using the lenders’ own funds which were 100 percent guaranteed by the SBA. Data from the application , including information about the borrower, the total number of the loan, and the listed number of employees, was transmitted by the lender to the SBA in the course of processing the loan.
As part of the scheme, Corkrum used several aliases including, Ellen Yabba Kwame Corkrum, HUNTER LAUREN VANPELT, HUNTER VANPELT.
According to the charges, on or about July 2016. VANPELT used both names. Vanpelt and Corkrum, after changing her name to Vanpelt, Corkrum submitted the PPP loan application under both names. Vanpelt was a resident of Roswell, Georgia.
From on or about April 27, 2020 to on or about June 17, 2020, false and fraudulent PPP loan applications were submitted on behalf of six entities associated with Vanpelt. The amounts requested in the six PPP loans totaled $7,943,591.50 of which $6,017,066.50.
Corkrum, using the name Vanpelt owned or controlled the six entities that sought the PPP loans described as follows: Georgia Nephrology Physician Associate, United Healthcare Group & Co., Nephrology Network Group LLC, First Corporate International, Corkrum Consolidated Inc., and Kiwi International Inc.(Collectively, Vanpelt Entities)
She is accused of submitting and caused to be submitted six false and fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of the Vanpelt Entities to four financial institutions based in the state of California, New Jersey and Utah respectively.
In each of the PPP loan applications for the Vanpelt Entities, Corkrum, aka Vanpelt, falsely certified that all information therein and in the supporting documents was true and accurate.
In each of the PPP loan application for the Vanpelt entities, the indictment alleges, Corkrum falsely represented the average monthly payroll and the number of employees working for the Vanpelt Entities.
Additionally, in support of each of the PPP loan applications for the Vanpelt Entities, Vanpelt submitted false Internal Revenue Services(IRS) records.
Among other executions of the scheme, on or about April 30, 2020, in the Northern District of Georgia and elsewhere, the defendant, knowingly execute and attempt to execute the scheme to defraud by submitting a false and fraudulent PPP loan application to the four financial institutions.
Upon conviction of the offense alleged in Count One of the Criminal Information, the defendant, Hunter Vanpelt aka Hunter Lauren Vanpelt, aka Ellen Corkrum aka Ellen Yabba Kwame Corkrum, was forced to forfeit to the United States of America, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Section 982(a)(2)(A) any property constituting, or derived from, proceeds obtained directly or indirectly, as a result of such violation. The property to be forfeited includes, but is not limited to the following;
Money judgement: A sum of money in United States currency representing the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the offense for which the defendant is convicted.
Those funds include: $US8, 401.00 in US currency seized from the defendants on or about October 6, 2020; $US216, 474.36 in funds seized from Navy Federal Credit Union Account number ending 8872 held in the name of Hunter Lauren VanPelt; $US2,685.36 in funds seized from Minnco Credit Union Account Number ending 6906 held in the name of Lucretia K. Turnquist; $US91, 574.53 in funds seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank Account Number ending 3083 held in the name of Corkrum Consolidated Inc.; $US69, 636.43 in funds seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank Account Number ending 3611 held in the name of Kiwi International Inc; $US1,666,755.44 in funds seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank Account ending 9031 held in the name of Nephrology Network Group LLC; $US21, 854.00 in funds seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank Account Number ending 9031 held in the name of Nephrology Network Group LLC.
As part of the criminal information filed in the district court concluded that the funds not included may be as a result of any act of omission of the defendant – or cannot be located upon the exercise of due diligence, has been transferred or sold to or deposited with a third party, has been placed beyond the jurisdiction of the court, has been substantially diminished in value or has been commingled with other property which cannot be divided without difficulty.
According to the charges, the US intends, pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853(p) as incorporated by Title 18, United States Section 982(1) to seek forfeiture of any other property of the defendant up to the value of the above forfeiture property.
US Fraud Charges Puts Liberia Justice System Under Scrutiny
The fraud charges against Corkrum in the US has once again put Liberia’s justice system in the spotlight. Following the dropping of charges against Corkrum last February, Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean who has been at odds with Solicitor General Cyrennius Cephus, said he was unaware that the charges were dropped and was bemused as to why.
Corkrum was represented by Cllr. Arthur Johnson who was at one point in time, contracted by the Government to undertake assets recovery. The case was eventually dropped by SG Cephus.
Solicitor General Syrenius Cephas instructed the motion to dismiss the case.
In a communication from the Solicitor General to the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike, dated February 3, 2020, obtained by FrontPageAfrica Monday, the SG wrote:
“We present our compliments and have the honor to forward herewith the attached case file involving Madam Ellen Corkrum, Musa Bility and members of the Board of Directors of RIA and a number of commercial banks which were investigated, others dropped and some were subsequently indicted for “Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Criminal conspiracy, and Misapplication of entrusted funds.”
“A careful review of the records of the case shows, that the previous government entered a Nolle Prosequoi in favor of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendancy, and we in recent times, did the same due to the absence of Madam Corkrum and to avoid being seen as pursuing a “selective prosecution.”
“Further, we also noticed that a sole source recommendation was made by our predecessor Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo to hire a US-based firm, Fox Rothschild to which US$200,00(Two Hundred Thousand Dollars that was allegedly paid to Fox Rothschild to have Madam Corkrum brought back to Liberia.
“Finally, the investigation should take into consideration the legal basis for the former Solicitor General Betty Lamin-Blamo recommending a sole source bid or selection of Fox Rothschild recommending a sole source bid or selection of Fox Rotschild, what became of the extradition proceedings, if any among them.”
Corkrum arrived in Liberia last January to a rousing welcome by sympathizers at the Roberts International Airport. She lauded the Coalition for Democratic Change government for dropping charges against her, noting that justice has finally been served. “It is wonderful to be back home and I’m grateful to President Weah and his team as well as the Liberian people,” she said. “My gratitude goes first and foremost to our wonderful President, George Weah and his team who continue to work to make our country a better place. I also want to applaud my family, friends and loved ones who stood by me.”
Corkrum caused mayhem during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when she recorded former Inspector General of the Liberia National Police (LNP), Chris Massaquoi and former Minister of Defense, Brownie Samukai, both of whom were reported to have had a hand in the escape from Liberia of Corkrum and her fiancé, Melvin Johnson.
Both men were caught in a series of explosive secret recordings reportedly released by Corkrum. Both officials were caught on tape discussing their boss, former President Sirleaf, in a demeaning manner.
In early 2016, Corkrum expressed her intent for the Liberian presidency shen addressed members of the Liberian community of Staten Island in New York, the United States, after accusing the Liberian government of being ‘insensitive’ to the plight of the Liberian people who she claimed are drowning in abject poverty, while officials of the Unity Party-led government were allegedly plundering the wealth of the country.