Daughter of Broward Commissioner Accused of COVID-19 Relief Fraud

Damara Holness is accused of defrauding a COVID-19 relief program

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The daughter of Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness is accused of obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief loans by allegedly submitting false tax and payroll information for her consulting business, federal prosecutors said.

Damara Holness, 28, of Fort Lauderdale, faces a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Holness applied for a $300,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in June 2020 on behalf of her Plantation-based consulting business Holness Consulting, Inc., prosecutors said.

Feds are cracking down on COVID-19 related financial fraud in the state. NBC 6's Phil Prazan reports

On the loan application, Holness claimed the company employed 18 people and spent an average of $120,000 each month on payroll, prosecutors said. The company has zero employees and no payroll expenses.

Holness is also accused of creating a paper trail and issuing checks from the company's bank account to people who agreed to endorse them for her. Holness would cash the checks at the company’s bank, give a few hundred dollars to the check endorsers, and keep the rest of the cash — about $1,000 per check — for herself, prosecutors alleged.

Holness made her first appearance in court Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale. She faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine if convicted. NBC 6 is reaching out to her defense attorney.

Holness is the daughter of Commissioner Dale Holness, who is running for the late Rep. Alcee Hastings’ seat in Congress. She is the former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus.

"I have always offered guidance and counsel to my daughter Damara to do what is right. I have no details as to how she conducted her business or what she did with her business entities," Commissioner Holness said in a statement.

He went on to separate his work from hers, saying she hasn't had access to his office since 2018.

"If she has done wrong, I hope she learns from this and uses this as a lesson to better conduct her life in the future," Holness said.

The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law last March.

This is a developing story. Check back with NBC 6 for updates.

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