JetBlue Workers Among 5 Charged With $1M Virus Loan Fraud

By Rachel Scharf
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Law360 (June 10, 2021, 7:03 PM EDT) -- Five New York and New Jersey residents, including three current and former JetBlue Airways employees, were arrested and charged Thursday with fraudulently obtaining $1 million in COVID-19 relief funds by lying about their personal companies' staffing and revenues on loan applications.

Brooklyn federal prosecutors accused Orlando Sanay, Keimi Nunez, Keily Nunez, Michael Pimentel Veloz and Fanny Plasencia of committing wire fraud by illegally securing pandemic-specific Economic Industry Disaster Loans for eight businesses that did not employ any workers or bring in revenue. Sanay was released on a $100,000 bond and the rest of the defendants were released on $50,000 bonds at arraignments Thursday, a spokesperson for the prosecution told Law360.

"As alleged, the defendants brazenly lied and stole more than $1 million in taxpayer funds from a program designed to help small businesses and their employees who were struggling to stay afloat and make ends meet during the pandemic," said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Mark J. Lesko in a statement Thursday.

Prosecutors said Sanay and Keily Nunez both currently work for JetBlue, and that many of the subject EIDL applications were submitted from the airline's IP address. Keily's twin brother Keimi Nunez previously worked for JetBlue as well but is no longer employed by the company, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday. A spokesperson for JetBlue told Law360 Thursday that "JetBlue is cooperating fully with law enforcement in this matter."

According to prosecutors, the defendants submitted EIDL applications for each of the eight businesses they owned to the U.S. Small Business Administration between April and August 2020. They ultimately scored $1 million in loans after claiming that each business employed between four and 41 workers and had gross revenues ranging from $396,000 to $3.2 million, prosecutors alleged.

But according to records from the New York Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service, the government said, none of the defendants' businesses employed any workers or had filed tax returns reporting revenues since they were incorporated.

Prosecutors further alleged that rather than spend the EIDL funds on business expenses as required by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the defendants made large transfers and cash withdrawals and used funds for personal expenses such as car payments.

Veloz's counsel defended his client in a comment to Law360 Thursday.

"I think Mr. Veloz is a decent human being, a single father, a hardworking man," said Kenneth Montgomery of Kenneth J. Montgomery PLLC. "We're going to address these allegations by the government."

Counsel for the other defendants declined to comment on the charges Thursday.

The government is represented by Patrick J. Campbell of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Sanay is represented by Michael Padden of the Federal Defenders of New York Inc.

Keily Nunez is represented by Jesse Siegel of the Law Office of Jesse M. Siegel.

Keimi Nunez is represented by Dorea Silverman of Colson Law PLLC.

Veloz is represented by Kenneth Montgomery of Kenneth J. Montgomery PLLC.

Plasencia is represented by Tom Dunn of Thomas F. X. Dunn Attorney At Law.

The case is USA v. Sanay et al., case number 1:21-mj-00668, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

--Editing by Ellen Johnson.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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