He got the attention of casting directors playing TV roles as a cop, a coroner and cartel member, according to his online filmography.
But now Jose Alfredo Fernandez’s role in $1.2 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans has gained the attention of the NBC 6 Investigators.
And, he says, of the FBI.
Fernandez, 35, who grew up in Miami-Dade and previously ran a tax return preparation company here, moved to Georgia in 2017.
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That’s when he organized the first of three companies that years later would obtain more than $1.2 million in PPP loans over 24 days in 2020, according to data from the Small Business Administration.
The NBC 6 Investigators found several apparent problems with loans awarded to the companies connected to Fernandez and his family.
• Records with the Georgia Secretary of State reveal the companies either did not exist or were dissolved for years on February 15, 2020, the date the PPP law states they must have been operating to be eligible;
• Since October 2019, Fernandez has been free on bond, awaiting trial for allegedly bringing two stolen luxury vehicles into Georgia. A company is ineligible for a PPP loan if an owner of at least 20% equity was subject to criminal charges, the law states;
• In total, the three companies claimed to have 75 employees with payroll costs of nearly $500,000 a month in 2019 – despite not existing or being dissolved in 2019; and
• One of the companies, Everything Housing LLC, paid $410,000 -- apparently in cash -- in June 2020 to purchase a vacation rental home 18 days after the company received a $400,000 PPP loan. PPP proceeds are not allowed to be used for real estate purchases, according to federal rules and law.
Without access to nonpublic loan documentation and other private records, the NBC 6 Investigators cannot say the loans were fraudulent or trace the source of the money used to buy the house. No one has been charged in connection to the loans.
But presented with the facts we’ve uncovered, a Secret Service special agent who’s investigated PPP fraud has his suspicions.
The timing of the purchase of the house suggested “fraud,” said Charles Leopard, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Service Miami office.
Without speaking directly on the Fernandez’s companies, but told what NBC 6 Investigators found in their corporate histories, Leopard saw potential red flags.
“Oftentimes we find that a business had been closed for a long period of time and simply reactivated shortly after that date,” Leopard said of the agency’s pandemic fraud investigations.
A history of long-dissolved companies suddenly being reinstated, or being created after February 15, 2020, tells investigators “It’s most likely a fraudulent application,” he said.
If someone out on bond on a criminal charge had sufficient equity in the company obtaining the loan, he was less uncertain, saying, “They’re committing fraud.”
“I CAN’T DISCUSS IT”
In a brief phone conversation, Fernandez confirmed he is an owner through Everything Housing LLC of the six-bedroom, six-bathroom rental house, located in Osceola County less than three miles from Walt Disney World. There is no record of a mortgage being taken out to fund the June 12, 2020 purchase – indicating it was a cash purchase.
Fernandez told the NBC 6 Investigators to speak with “my attorney” about the matter and provided the name of a lawyer based in Houston, who did not respond to repeated calls, texts and voicemails.
He also said the FBI was looking into the matter, but would not specify which office.
After being told the NBC 6 investigation involved $1.2 million and asked how he came up with the money to pay cash for the rental house, he said “I can’t discuss it.”
A LIFELINE PRONE TO FRAUD
The PPP was created in March 2020 to help small businesses hit hard by the then-emergent pandemic to continue paying employees, rent, utilities and some other expenses. If the loans were obtained legally and the funds were used properly– with at least 60% going to payroll costs – the recipients do not have to pay back a cent. The loans are forgiven.
The Small Business Administration has paid out nearly $790 billion processing more than 11 million PPP loans, giving businesses and employees struggling with the pandemic a much-needed lifeline.
But the program, which ended in May 2021, has also been popular with fraudsters, with billions of dollars sent to people and companies that were not eligible for the amounts they received or for any loan at all, according to a 2021 SBA Inspector General report.
Leopard told NBC 6 he has seen estimates that up to $76 billion may have been paid in fraudulent loans. The Secret Service, he said, has 900 active investigations, seized $1.2 billion in fraudulent proceeds and returned nearly twice that amount to banks before fraudsters could access it.
“The fact we had a pandemic and very robust stimulus plan, it made it ripe for fraudsters to gain access to large amounts of money almost unvetted, at least initially,” Leopard said.
South Florida – which Leopard said is “known as the fraud capital of the U.S.” -- has produced more PPP fraud prosecutions than any other region, with Georgia a close second, according to U.S. Department of Justice records.
$1.2 MILLION PAID IN 24 DAYS
Fernandez’s first bite of the PPP apple reveals nothing questionable in the NBC 6 review of the public record.
That loan went to a fourth company: NTG LLC, a Georgia accounting services company he and his wife created in 2017 and which appears to have been in continuous operation since then. It received a $50,400 PPP loan, stating it had five employees. The April 15, 2020 loan was the first of two, totaling $127,300, according to SBA data.
But soon that trickle of pandemic relief would turn into a flood of cash – more than $1.2 million paid out to the three other companies connected to Fernandez and his family over just 24 days in May and June of 2020.
Here’s some of the timeline, based on corporate and property records in Georgia and Florida:
• April 18, 2020 -- three days after that first loan to NTG LLC was approved and funded -- Fernandez and his wife, Vanessa Cabrera, organized Everything Housing LLC. Fernandez and Cabrera were named as member, organizer or registered agent, according to records with the Georgia Secretary of State. A request for comment from Cabrera made by text to her husband has not been returned.
• May 25, 2020 – five weeks after it was organized – Everything Housing LLC was approved for and funded with a $400,000 PPP loan, according to a database provided by the SBA. The SBA says it cannot release records revealing whether Fernandez is included on the application as an owner of the company since such records are not public.
• June 12, 2020 – Everything Housing LLC bought the 3,300-square-foot vacation rental with a pool and spa in Osceola County for $410,000 without a mortgage being recorded, indicating it was a cash purchase.
To obtain a $400,000 PPP loan, a company must certify it had the equivalent of more than $1.92 million in annual payroll costs in 2019, according to an SBA worksheet for applicants. The SBA reports Everything Housing LLC claimed to have 25 employees. That means each employee would’ve averaged at least $77,000 in salary and benefits for 2019.
But – again – Everything Housing LLC was created in April 2020, just five weeks prior to having its PPP loan funded, according to records with the Georgia Secretary of State.
And a search of public records in Georgia found it owned only one property at that time, a small rental property in Dekalb County purchased for $35,000 on April 29, 2020.
That same day Fernandez was arrested again, charged with theft by deception. He allegedly obtained $65,319 by using a dead person’s personal information to “max out several Synchrony Bank credit cards,” according to Gwinnett County sheriff’s office records. He was released from jail April 30 on a $15,000 bond, according to Gwinnett County jail records. The charge remains pending.
LOANS KEPT COMING
Fernandez’s PPP involvement did not stop with Everything Housing LLC.
In May 2020, Fernandez, as registered agent, reinstated a Georgia corporation – Fernandez Family Investments LLC – that had been dissolved in 2018.
Less than seven weeks later, that company was funded by a $403,226 PPP loan, based on it purportedly being in operation on February 15, 2020 and having 25 employees with an annual payroll of more than $1.9 million.
And in June 2020 a third corporation – Everything Tax Inc. – was reinstated after being dissolved by the Georgia Secretary of State more than four years earlier. Fernandez was listed as chief financial officer and other family members were listed in other positions.
On June 13, 2020, Everything Tax Inc. received a $405,041 PPP loan, based on it purportedly being in operation on February 15, 2020 with 25 employees and an annual payroll of more than $1.9 million.
RETURN TO FLORIDA
By then – having closed on June 12, 2020 on the purchase of the vacation rental home and with the companies having PPP loan proceeds in hand – Fernandez’ attention was turning back to Florida.
That’s where he grew up and spent most of his life – in North Miami Beach and Hialeah – before moving to Georgia in 2017 and pursuing “a lifelong dream to become an actor,” according to his bio on the IMDB online database.
On July 11, 2020 Everything Housing LLC changed its address from Georgia to a maildrop in a UPS Store in Osceola County.
Fernandez may have been moving on from Georgia, but Georgia was not done with Fernandez.
On July 23, 2020, he was arrested for a third time since 2019, this time on charges of identity theft for allegedly possessing and intending to use a dead person’s Lowe’s credit card, according to sheriff’s records. He was released the same day on an $11,200 bond and the case remains pending, according to online court records.
Repeated calls to the criminal lawyer representing him on all three pending cases have gone unanswered. Fernandez pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Everything Housing LLC did buy at least two more small rental properties, in November 2020 in Atlanta, paying $76,000, according to Georgia property records.
In April 2021, a family member purchased a six-bedroom, five-bathroom home around the corner from the rental home in Osceola County, paying $450,000 with a $427,500 mortgage. Fernandez has been living there with family. Parked outside on a recent Sunday afternoon were a Tesla, a BMW and a Mercedes- Benz S550.
As for his acting career, Fernandez did not respond to a text message asking him to confirm his IMDB bio is accurate.
But it lists several roles, including as a coroner in Watchmen, a blackjack dealer in Ozark and, in the HBO series The Outsider, as a crime scene investigator.
‘WE’RE NOT GOING TO REST’
Leopard, the Secret Service agent, said the agency and other federal law enforcement continue to hunt down those who defrauded the PPP program.
“It’s not that complicated to figure out who took our fraudulent loans,” he said. “We just have to go through the process, generate the leads, divvy them out and work them.”
But he knows there are many more evading detection so far. “A whole lot more. That’s the challenge for law enforcement in general,” he said.
“The timing was perfect for fraudsters,” he said, noting the government “wanted to get the money to the people as fast as possible, so you can’t vet as well.” In addition, “law enforcement had its hands full, struggling to deal with COVID and trying to help the community in South Florida,” including local partners who needed help fighting a surge in crime.
Asked if those who committed fraud should be worried about an early-morning knock on their door, Leopard said, “Yes, definitely. We’re not going to rest knowing this kind of fraud went on."
Join us for our NBC News series "The Fleecing of America" as we report on historic fraud in the U.S. during the pandemic. Read more on nbcnews.com/investigations