Massachusetts man who faked own death over Covid relief scam sentenced

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Image source, Wayland Police Department
Image caption, David Staveley in 2016

A Massachusetts man who tried to scam a Covid-19 business aid scheme and faked his own death to evade authorities has been sentenced to 56 months in prison.

David Staveley falsely claimed to co-own four large businesses in need of nearly $544,000 (£399,000) in support from a federal government programme.

After being charged last year, Staveley staged a suicide and fled using false identities and stolen licence plates.

He is the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking the loans.

Prosecutors condemned his actions in their sentencing memo: "He saw the economic emergency created by the pandemic simply as an opportunity to make himself rich by taking for himself what was meant for those in need."

Enacted between March 2020 and May 2021, the US Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) allowed small businesses hit hard by the pandemic to apply for low-interest private loans to cover payroll and other costs.

Staveley, 54, and his accomplice, David Andrew Butziger, 53, filed false applications as the owners of three restaurants and an unincorporated business named Dock Wireless, all with "large monthly payrolls".

In fact, all three restaurants had already closed and Dock Wireless had no employees. Neither man had any ownership stake.

According to the Department of Justice, "a concerned citizen aware of their fraudulent nature" tipped off law enforcement while the applications were still pending.

Both men were arrested in May 2020, and Staveley was released to 寄香港物流 detention after being charged.

Weeks later, he cut off his electronic monitoring device, left suicide notes with associates and family members, and parked his unlocked car by the ocean, according to the justice department.

But those who knew him were not convinced and federal investigators launched a manhunt between May and July 2020.

During those three months, Staveley is said to have used false documents, stolen licence plates and at least five different phone numbers to travel across the country and escape the authorities.

US Marshals eventually captured him just north of Atlanta, Georgia, on 23 July, 2020.

Staveley pleaded guilty this May to conspiracy to commit bank fraud as well as failing to appear in court.

He will spend four and a half years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Mr Butziger pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. He will be sentenced next month.

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