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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Local blimp company exec who stole $5 million in COVID-19 relief funds gets 5-year prison sentence

A 42-year-old blimp company executive from Williston has been sentenced to over five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering in connection to COVID-19 pandemic relief.

On Tuesday, January 31, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Jason R. Coody announced that Patrick Parker Walsh has been sentenced to 66 months in federal prison.

According to court documents, between April 7, 2020, and January 21, 2021, Walsh submitted a total of 16 fraudulent applications to multiple federally insured financial institutions and other qualified lenders for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in the names of multiple businesses, including his blimp companies which were headquartered in Levy County.

Court records indicate that several discrepancies were discovered on Walsh’s PPP loan applications, including no record of some employees that were listed in Walsh’s applications; the number of employees listed in multiple applications was more than previously listed in employer tax records; and some of the companies claimed in the applications were not established businesses as of February 15, 2020, which is the date that the COVID-19 pandemic relief programs began.

Upon further investigation, it was revealed that Walsh had used several of the same employees on PPP loan applications for different companies. Through the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Walsh sought $11.9 million in PPP loan funds, of which he received nearly $5 million.

Additionally, between March 2020 and July 2020, Walsh submitted a total of 18 fraudulent applications to the U.S. Small Business Administration for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), in his own name and in the name of his spouse. Walsh’s false EIDL applications were approved and over $2.8 million was disbursed to him.

Walsh also engaged in multiple monetary transactions that involved at least $10,000 of fraudulently obtained PPP loan or EIDL proceeds. A majority of these transactions included payments for the purchase of real estate in Florida and Texas, oil leases, and to pay off his mortgage loans.

The PPP, which is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), was designed to provide low-interest, forgivable loans to applicants to help fund certain permissible expenses for qualifying businesses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which included payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.

The EIDL program, also administered by the SBA, was designed to provide low-interest loans to small businesses in regions affected by declared disasters. The CARES Act authorized the SBA to provide EIDLs, up to $2 million, to eligible small businesses experiencing substantial financial disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walsh’s imprisonment will be followed by three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay over $7.8 million in restitution to the SBA, and the court entered an order of forfeiture in the same amount.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-Office of Inspector General, and the U.S. Small Business Administration-Office of Inspector General.

Assistant United States Attorneys Justin M. Keen and David P. Byron prosecuted the case with the assistance of Assistant United States Attorney Katherine Kerwin, of the United States Attorney’s Financial Litigation Program.