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Oakland Woman Charged With Pandemic Relief Fraud; Over $1M Allegedly Used On Luxury Lifestyle

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- An Oakland woman has been charged with defrauding federal COVID relief programs and using the money obtained to finance a luxury lifestyle, including private jet travel, expensive automobiles and luxury goods.

Christina Burden, 31, was arrested Friday in Austin, Texas on a federal criminal complaint charging her with bank fraud in an alleged scheme to obtain pandemic relief loans, according to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson.

Between April and June of 2020, Burden allegedly submitted ten fraudulent applications for over $4.5 million in forgiveable loans from the government's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Burden received $684,375 in from one of the applications for a shell entity "Blessing Box Co. LLC" and another $307,916 in PPP funds for three other shell companies, according to the complaint.

During this time, Burden also allegedly submitted a fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) application for one of the same shell entities, and received $150,900 in funds. The four entities were recently created by Burden and do not appear to engage in any legitimate business nor to have any employees, the complaint said.

While the federal PPP requires that funds be used for legitimate business and payroll expenses, the complaint said Burden spent the bulk on personal indulgences such as private jet travel, hotel stays, boat rentals, expensive automobiles, luxury goods purchased from Louis Vuitton and Neiman Marcus. The funds were also allegedly used to buy specialty items from the Sunglass Hut, Wayfair, and the San Francisco Giants Dugout Store, among others

In addition, the complaint also alleges Burden wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to friends and family, $150,000 of which was spent in part on Mercedes and Land Rover vehicles.

"The Paycheck Protection Program provides a financial lifeline to needy businesses and their employees," said Anderson in a prepared statement. "We allege that Christina Burden obtained PPP funds by fraud, submitting false business information, false employee numbers, false bank statements, and false tax returns.  She used those funds for a spending spree on entertainment, luxury goods, and high end excursions, including travel by private jet."

"As we begin a second round of PPP loans for small businesses who are struggling during this pandemic, we will be on alert for fraudsters who seek to take advantage of the program," said FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. "Those who wish to defraud programs designed to help those in need should know that the FBI and our partners will pursue every investigative tool available to us to ensure the integrity of those programs and that they remain available to our community's small business owners."

According the complaint, Burden's loan applications falsely stated each business was in operation before February 15, 2020 and her businesses had up to 89 employees and monthly payroll expenses of over $700,000. Howeve, tax records show none of her entities paid payroll taxes or submitted any payroll tax forms, according to the complaint. Bank records also allegedly show payroll expense payments were doctored when compared against the actual bank records,.

Burden's is scheduled for an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Austin on Monday, and is expected to be ordered to appear later in U.S. District Court in Oakland to face the charge in the federal complaint. She faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a one million dollar fine for the bank fraud charge, if convicted.

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