SAVANNAH, Ga (WSAV) — Federal courts have charged eight new defendants with taking part in COVID-19 relief fraud schemes—two of them pleading guilty.

The charges result from an ongoing investigation into misuse of the U.S. government’s COVID-19 financial relief programs.

According to authorities, the charges carry statutory penalties of up to 20 years in prison along with substantial amounts of restitution and financial penalties, followed by a period of supervised release.

“Millions of distressed businesses found much-needed financial assistance during the pandemic through the U.S. government’s COVID-19 relief programs,” said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “It’s disappointing that others abused these programs not for saving a valid business, but for lining their own pockets.”

Two defendants have entered guilty pleas:

  • Cortazz Russ, 24, of Hampton, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Wire Fraud. Russ admitted filing two PPP loan applications containing false information in May 2021.
  • Melvin D’Juan Williams, 34, of Fort Stewart, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Wire Fraud. Williams admitted including false statements in a PPP application in August 2020.

Six additional individuals have been charged via Information, and are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty:

  • Salmat Deyji, 26, of Stockbridge, Ga., charged with Conspiracy regarding payments received for filing fraudulent PPP applications on behalf of others;
  • Aleska Davis, 54, of Decatur, Ga., charged with Wire Fraud regarding two applications for PPP loans;
  • Jimmy Cede, 21, of Savannah, charged with Wire Fraud regarding an application for a PPP loan;
  • James Andre Wright, 40, of Savannah, charged with False Statements regarding an EIDL application;
  • Calvin Beckford, 28, of Hinesville, Ga., charged with Wire Fraud regarding a PPP application; and,
  • Devante Williams, 25, of Hinesville, charged with Wire Fraud regarding two applications for PPP loans.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.