Broward County

Daughter of District 20 Candidate Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Relief Fraud

Damara Holness pled guilty to fraudulently obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief loans for her Plantation consulting business

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The daughter of congressional candidate Dale Holness pled guilty Wednesday to obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief loans by submitting false tax and payroll information for her consulting business, federal prosecutors said.

Damara Holness, 28, of Fort Lauderdale, pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Her sentencing is scheduled for January 2022. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. 

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.

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.

Prosecutors said Holness created a paper trail and issued 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 said.

Holness is the daughter of Dale Holness, a former Broward County Commissioner and a current candidate for Florida's District 20, the late Rep. Alcee Hastings' seat. As of Wednesday, only a few votes separated Dale Holness and health care company CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in the crowded primary race.

"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," Dale Holness said in a statement back in August.

Damara Holness is also the former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus.

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.

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